Bowles: Budget cuts will hurt poor students

Posted June 10, 2010 5:29 a.m. EDT
Updated June 11, 2010 5:54 p.m. EDT

— University of North Carolina President Erskine Bowles said Thursday that poor and minority students would be hit hardest by budget cuts proposed by state lawmakers.

Last week, the House passed a spending plan that would cut the UNC system budget by $147 million in the 2010-11 school year, more than doubling the cuts planned by lawmakers when they passed the two-year state budget last summer.

The House proposal could cost the universities 1,700 positions, including hundreds of faculty jobs, and would prevent enrollment from growing by more than 1 percent at the system's 16 higher education campuses, Bowles said.

"It's going to mean fewer professors on campus because we'll have to fire a lot of people. It'll lead to fewer classes, and the classes we have will have more people in it," he told the UNC Board of Governors on Thursday. "So, it'll take longer to graduate, which will cost more money to the state."

The proposed budget gives the UNC system an extra $12 million for student financial aid, short of the $34.9 million officials requested. Bowles said that would hurt up to 8,000 students who need such tuition assistance.

"Rich kids can afford a college education without need-based aid," he said. "The middle-class and the poor get hurt, and I want to fight against that."

Leading Senators have already expressed opposition to the House spending plan because of the UNC budget cuts and the cap on enrollment, and Bowles said he expects that "the university will not end up with draconian cuts."

Still, he said UNC officials need to lobby lawmakers to ensure cuts are kept to a minimum.

"We are doing this for the students," he said. "We are determined to maintain the quality."

Students said they appreciate any effort to keep their tuition costs down.

"Everyone thinks it's crazy that tuition keeps going up, and students are complaining about it," said April Harrid, a student at the North Carolina Central University Law School. "If I can't take out unsubsidized loans, then I have to take out private loans. It's like this debt, this overwhelming, huge debt."