Easley lays out higher education budget

RALEIGH – Gov. Mike Easley’s proposed budget would give substantial increases in funding to the state’s public universities, as well as the community college system.

Easley’s proposed budget was released Wednesday during a presentation with members of the Joint Appropriations Committee. Funding for the University of North Carolina represents 8.7 percent of the proposed $16.9 billion general fund budget.

Including federal funds and other funding sources, UNC’s total budget for the 2006 fiscal year would be $3.49 billion, according to Easley’s budget proposal. Community colleges have a total budget proposed of $959 million.

If Easley’s budget is approved, UNC would receive a 12 percent budget increase from its fiscal year 2005 appropriation. UNC’s proposed appropriation is $2.1 billion from the general fund. The system received $1.89 billion in appropriations in 2005. Community colleges’ proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year would also be increased from $691 million for the 2005 fiscal year to $763 million for the upcoming fiscal year.

Though UNC’s proposed is substantial, it is not the largest percentage increase among state departments in Easley’s budget request.

Both the UNC system and community colleges would also participate in the increase in the Learn and Earn high school initiative, according to the budget. However, funding for that program was allocated to the Department of Public Instruction.

During Wednesday’s budget presentation, State Budget Officer David McCoy said Easley’s budget proposal aimed to increase funding for education initiatives while also maintaining a fiscally conservative budget. The same sentiment was expressed in a letter from Easley that accompanied his budget request.

“My long-term budget strategy is based on two things: fiscal discipline and education progress,” Easley wrote. “My budget recommendations continue our commitment to providing educational opportunities for every citizen in every region of the state and to building the highly skilled workforce necessary to be successful in the global economy.”

Learn and Earn is Easley’s pet program to reform high schools to allow students to remain in school for an extra year to receive two years of college credit, or an associate’s degree. The program was created in 2004 with funding for 15 pilot locations. Easley now wants to expand the initiative statewide. Community colleges and universities would work with local high schools in providing on-site staff personnel.

A $3.2 million appropriation for the 2006 fiscal year would fund 20 new planning sites to become operational the following year. The 2007 fiscal year budget would increase the funding for the program to $9.2 million and would fund an additional 20 planning sites.

Besides Learn and Earn, Easley’s proposed budget calls for a $73.4 million increase for enrollment growth funding for the UNC system. Community colleges would receive a $7.9 million enrollment growth increase, while the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, a UNC affiliated institution, is budgeted for a $200,000 increase.

Expanding on a theme from Monday’s State of the State address, Easley’s higher education budget proposal also calls for increased funding for financial aid needs. Easley said Monday the increase funding would make up for cuts to the federal Pell Grant program. The proposed budget calls for $5.2 million in financial aid increase due to the Pell Grant rule change. Of that, $3.2 million is allocated for the UNC system, while $2 million would go towards community colleges.

Easley’s budget also seeks $2.5 million for UNC to fund biotechnology initiatives at North Carolina State University and North Carolina Central University. The funding would be used to fund the Biomanufacturing Research Institute and Technology Enterprise, which would offer students opportunity for hands-on-research, according to the budget proposal.

A $1 million appropriation was included in the budget for the William and Ida Friday Institute for Educational Innovation to allow for research for teaching and educational leadership. The institute is located at North Carolina State’s Centennial Campus.

In regards to community colleges, Easley’s budget proposes spending $10 million from the 2005 fiscal year credit balance for equipment needs. The budget also calls for a 2 percent salary increase for full-time faculty and professional staff on top of the proposed statewide salary increases for the upcoming fiscal year.

House and Senate leaders will likely hear more about Easley’s education budget when the House and Senate Appropriations committees hear a detailed presentation.

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