Education

UNC system might cut degree programs to save money

Posted January 14, 2011 2:03 p.m. EST
Updated January 14, 2011 5:08 p.m. EST

— University of North Carolina campuses might soon have to compete to retain duplicative degree programs and courses, new UNC President Tom Ross said Friday.

Ross, who is in his second week on the job, told members of the UNC Board of Governors that he needs to find ways to cut costs without sacrificing educational quality as the state tries to erase a projected $3.7 billion deficit for the 2011-12 fiscal year, which starts in July.

"We want to be a partner in solving what I think is maybe the worst crisis North Carolina government has seen, certainly in my lifetime," Ross said. "I'm about trying to be sure this university stays great."

Gov. Beverly Perdue instructed UNC system administrators last fall to prepare for budget cuts of 5 to 10 percent. A 5 percent cut would mean laying off 900 employees, including 400 faculty members across the 17-campus system, affecting about 2,700 courses, officials said. A 10 percent cut would mean about 2,000 layoffs – half of them faculty – and affect about 6,400 courses.

Campuses have already requested tuition increases for the coming year – 13 are seeking the maximum possible increase of 6.5 percent – to help offset the state cuts.

Ross has asked retired UNC-Charlotte Chancellor Jim Woodward to review programs across the system to see if there are some that might be offered in too many places. Woodward also served as interim chancellor at North Carolina State University last year.

"If there are programs that are being duplicated across campuses, (we are looking at) where we can eliminate one of them and still be offering what we need to be offering and save some money," Ross said.

He didn't provide a time frame for the review or when some programs might be cut.

"(This) has to do with the long-term recognition that we are probably going to be operating with less resources," he said. "We are all, I think, beginning to come to grips with the fact that the world is different and it's changing, and we are going to have to be different."

Board of Governors Chairwoman Hannah Gage said the depth of the potential cuts in state funding make such moves necessary.

"If we begin to look at 10 or 15 percent cuts, especially on a small campus, it's absolutely critical that we look at what we might be able to do at 50,000 feet and find some savings from the system level," Gage said.

She also said the review could do more than save money.

"I do think that what we will find is opportunities of combining programs, of consolidating things that could be stronger if they were, you know, pulled together," she said.

Ross also asked chancellors to suggest ways to streamline government regulations that tie up staff members' time.

The UNC system has absorbed more than $600 million in cuts over the last four years, with most of the cuts coming from administrative budgets.

North Carolina Central University Chancellor Charlie Nelms said the budget crisis is the worst he's seen in his 40-year career.

"You can't panic. What you have to do is say, 'OK, what resources do we have?' to make sure that we are deploying those resources in the most effective and efficient manner," Nelms said.