Local News

Community colleges could be hit hard by budget cuts

Posted May 20, 2009 10:41 p.m. EDT
Updated August 30, 2009 12:30 p.m. EDT

— The state budget for the 2009-10 fiscal year could include $1.8 billion in education cuts. Community colleges could feel the biggest pinch.

Members of the House Education Appropriations Committee must come up with ways to make the cuts, including taking funds away from community colleges at a time when more people are enrolling due to the recession.

“This kind of budget cut will affect every child, will affect every family, will in the end affect every citizen negatively,” said Rep. Rick Glazier, D-Cumberland.

In normal times, 60,000 people enroll at Wake Tech every year, but community college enrollment rises when the economy turns down. Enrollment is already up 14 percent this spring compared with the same time in 2008 as people seek new skills they can take to the job market.

“I have been working in the community college system since 1972, and I have never seen anything like this before,” said Dr. Steve Scott, president of Wake Tech Community College.

From community colleges to public schools, the cuts lawmakers are proposing could be drastic.

“At the public school level, this would mean the cut of 10,000 or more personnel, teachers, teachers' assistants, clerical staff, maintenance,” said Glazier, who co-chairs the House Appropriations Committee.

Community colleges usually get about a third of their funding from the state. Cuts being proposed for community colleges include possibly merging some schools, eliminating some scholarship programs and eliminating the tuition waiver for the dual-enrollment program.

“We're looking to have to cut 11 percent from education this year, and 14 percent next year,” Glazier said.

Scott said the cuts being proposed for community colleges are around $129 million. That is equivalent, he said, to closing 14 of the smaller community colleges or merging the two largest schools, which are Central Piedmont and Wake Tech.

Kyle Thompson is among those who found success through Wake Tech's dual-enrollment program. He credits the program with helping him settle on a college major.

“Wake Tech made a big difference,” he said. “I'm going into aerospace engineering at North Carolina State University, and the math courses and physics courses help me see that."

The House Education Appropriations Committee will continue budget talks Thursday at 8:30 a.m. The focus will be on the state's university system and more recommendations about where and how much to cut.