North Carolina is one of 39 states likely to face a shortfall in higher education spending in the next several years, according to a new report by Harold A. Hovey, a state budget and tax expert with the California-based National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.
Hovey told The Chronicle of Higher Education on June 27 that the generous increase in state support for higher education in recent years reflects strong fiscal and economic conditions. When those conditions dissapear, he projects that generous support for higher education will also disappear. Elected officials and policy makers will then have to scrutinize budget needs for higher education.
For North Carolina lawmakers the scrutiny has already begun. Earlier this month, state lawmakers failed to agree on proposals by both the House and Senate to allow the state to issue billions of dollars in bonds for constuction and renovation to UNC system schools. A $3 billion bond proposal by the Senate would have tripled the state’s debt and cost taxpayers $250 million in debt service over the next two decades, while a subseqent proposal by the House would have set aside only 21 percent of a proposed $1.2 billion bond package for much-needed repairs and renovations to UNC system schools. Much of the remaining 79 percent would have been used to finance new construction and other non-emergency needs. A conference committee has been appointed to work on a compromise bill.
Hovey also told The Chronicle that “the last five years have been about as good as it gets in state funding of higher education.”
An analysis by the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy shows that North Carolina squandered those years of generous funding— financing millions of dollars’ worth of low-priority projects, even as old buildings crumbled and emergency repairs went unattended. Examples of low-priority, high-cost projects since 1994 include $9.75 million for the planning, design and site preparation of Appalachan State University’s Convocation Center, $7.1 million for UNC-TV’s Columbia transmitter tower, $3.5 million for N.C. State’s Centennial Campus, $700,000 for an “economic and community development center” at UNC-Pembroke, $7 million for the expansion of a stadium at East Carolina University and another $10 million for ASU’s convocation center.
Hunt Sends Mixed Signals on Academics’ “Big Salaries”
The pay raises for UNC system chancellors that were approved by the UNC Board of Governors during a special July meeting followed quickly on the heels of Gov. Jim Hunt’s complaint about “academics” who “have plenty” and “get these big salaries.”
Hunt’s remarks came during a July 19 speech about economic development incentives. He told the crowd that “All these rich folks that live up here in the Research Triangle — a lot of these academics — have plenty, you know, they get these big salaries. They don’t associate with poor people that need a job. So they think incentives are terrible.”
The governor’s public remarks are in sharp contrast with his remarks to education leaders on March 4, 1996, when he said “To stay ahead of the curve, we must pay our faculty — at community colleges and universities — better.”