2004 short session features a slate of higher education bills

RALEIGH – Within the initial weeks of the 2004 short session, General Assembly members introduced several pieces of legislation that involved higher education issues in the state.

Some of the bills focused on appropriations to the University of North Carolina system and its 16 institutions, while others would place a cap on out-of-state student admissions to each school. Some bills call for increased spending, while others would study programs approved during the 2003 session.

Appropriation items that have been approved thus far by the Senate include a measure to fund a cancer center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a stroke center at East Carolina University. Senate Bill 1041, which passed on third reading by a vote of 47-1, would call for the state to spend $180 million to build the cancer center and $60 million to build the stoke center.

Other higher-education appropriation items under consideration include House Bill 1404, which would raise community college faculty’s salaries closer to the national average. According to the bill’s language, a salary plan would be created to provide accountability as well as allows local community colleges to continue to have control of employee salaries.

If approved in its current state, House Bill 1404 would set a minimum salary for a full-time, nine-month faculty member with a masters degree at $30,681. A faculty member with a doctorate degree would receive $33,210.

Senate Bill 1058 and House Bill 1515 would give tuition benefits to non-resident military members who attend UNC institutions or community colleges. According to the proposed pieces of legislation, the military personnel or their dependents would be charged the in-state tuition rate.

Senate Bill 1354, introduced by Sen. John Kerr, D-7, would allow the UNC system to use nonappropriated funds to begin work on $355 million’s worth of projects. Those projects include a $33.5 million biomanufacturing training and education center at N.C. State, $1 million for an addition to WUNC Radio at UNC-Chapel Hill, and renovations to residence halls at East Carolina, N.C. State, UNC-Asheville, UNC-Chapel Hill, UNC-Charlotte, and UNC-Greensboro. The bill would allow the projects to be financed through gifts, grants, receipts, self-liquidating indebtedness, or other funds.

Sen. Larry Shaw, D-21, introduced a Senate Bill 1195 to authorize a study of a proposed School of Engineering at Fayetteville State University. The bill would appropriate $25,000 from the state’s general fund to fund the study. Shaw’s senatorial district encompasses Fayetteville State University.

Currently, eight UNC schools have an engineering program. Duke University also has an engineering program.

While some proposals are still under consideration, some lacked support among legislators and have been dropped or modified. Those includes a plan by House Co-Speaker Jim Black that would fund several UNC system projects using a balloon financing proposal. Under such a scheme, the state would make interest payments only for 20 years, which would lower the state’s burden but would also require the entire principal be paid at the end of the loan.

Black’s plan would have financed such projects as a NASCAR testing facility and track to be run through UNC-Charlotte’s motorsports engineering program.

“I think this package has all in it that it can stand,” Black recently told The Charlotte Observer. “You can do a lot more things if you weren’t loading down the state with debt service.”

Shannon Blosser (sblosser@popecenter.org) is a staff writer for the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in Chapel Hill.