Raleigh, N.C. — A new political action committee promises to build the case to bolster funding for North Carolina's university and community college systems with lawmakers and people across the state.
Higher Education Works will "remind both citizens and elected officials that our public universities and community colleges have helped distinguish this state from other states and it is worth preserving them as gems," said David Rice, the new group's executive director.
Rice is a former newspaper reporter turned lobbyist who has represented Citizens for Higher Education – a booster group the primarily promotes University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill – at the legislature since 2005.
"This is a much broader and more diverse group than Citizens," Rice said. "This will be an effort on behalf of all 17 campuses of the university system, as well as the community colleges."
Taxpayers subsidize education at both state-run universities and community colleges. For example, taxpayer support for the UNC system is roughly $2.5 billion this year, or about 12 percent of the taxpayer spending across the entire state budget.
In recent years, lawmakers have endeavored the pare budgets across state government, including in the university system.
Higher education boosters point out that the state constitution says "the benefits of The University of North Carolina and other public institutions of higher education, as far as practicable, be extended to the people of the State free of expense."
Rice said his group will be urging lawmakers to follow through on that promise.
"It's clear that the jobs of the future will require college degrees, and it's clear that it's the General Assembly's responsibility to make those degrees as affordable as possible," Rice said.
Disclosure paperwork filed with both the state and federal government does not paint a complete picture of who will back the group. So far, only the names of three donors are public record, including former UNC-CH athletic director Dick Baddour.
Asked who was the driving force behind the group, Rice said, "There are various interests, many of them employers, who represent all of the campuses in the system, who want to be sure that we preserve something that's unique and dear to the people in this state."