State News

Bowles: Budget cuts could limit university enrollment

Posted May 27, 2010 12:42 p.m. EDT
Updated May 27, 2010 6:46 p.m. EDT

— University of North Carolina President Erskine Bowles said a budget proposal approved Thursday by a House subcommittee effectively caps enrollment at the system's 16 higher education campuses.

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education passed a spending plan that adds $139 million in discretionary cuts to the UNC system to the $100 million in 2010-11 cuts that lawmakers say were included in the budget they approved last summer.

"Fully understanding the impacts of these reductions will take some time," Bowles said in a statement. "In all of our previous analyses, we never imagined that reductions would reach this level."

The House proposal could lead to 1,700 positions being eliminated across the university system and would prevent enrollment from growing by more than 1 percent, he said. The UNC system also would get an extra $12 million to provide students financial aid instead of the $34.9 million officials requested, he said.

"This level of cuts would force us to reduce the numbers of students that we can accept on our campuses," he said. "Our current students would find themselves in far larger classes and would find that courses they need for graduation are no longer offered or are only offered sporadically."

Two days ago, the subcommittee called for $77 million in discretionary cuts, but lawmakers almost doubled that number in exchange for allowing UNC campuses to keep about $35 million from tuition increases and other concessions.

Bowles said the UNC system would have had to cut $104 million under Gov. Beverly Perdue's proposed budget and only $54 million under the budget approved last week by the Senate.

North Carolina State University Chancellor Randy Woodson called the recommended budget cuts "a big challenge."

"It certainly would get into the academic core," Woodson said. "I'm confident, at the end of the day, the General Assembly continues to support higher education. This budget proposed certainly doesn't reflect that level of support."

Rep. Ray Rapp, chairman of the education appropriations subcommittee, said funding decisions weren't easy in a second consecutive tight budget.

"We did have to make cuts, but I think we did cuts surgically. We didn't just go in and hammer one sector," said Rapp, D-Madison.

Overall, the education budget the subcommittee approved would increase spending by about $16 million over the initial draft presented Tuesday. Federal matching funds would add another $6 million to that total.

The plan would use $126 million from North Carolina Education Lottery profits to reduce class sizes in early grades. Rep. Rick Glazier of Fayetteville says the plan would help minimize teacher layoffs this fall.

Also, the subcommittee voted to restore $4.5 million in spending for assistant principals in public schools. The Senate and Perdue both wanted to cut that amount.

The North Carolina Association of School Administrators and the North Carolina School Boards Association issued a joint statement praising the budget proposal for trying to protect public schools from cuts.

“As local boards of education across the state are struggling to provide high quality education in a difficult economic climate, the House version of the budget will assist them in giving the children of this state the necessary tools to compete in the 21st century global economy,” said Leanne Winner, director of governmental relations for the School Boards Association.

The House expects to vote on a final state budget proposal next week, and lawmakers will then have to work out a compromise between that and the Senate budget.

Lawmakers said they don't expect the Senate to go along with the House's proposed cuts to the UNC system, but faculty and students remain concerned.

"I definitely don't want (budget cuts)," N.C. State junior Doretta Gaudreau said. "I totally prefer smaller classes, and you get more attention from teachers and teachers know your name."