Apr 022013




Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Public education consumes more than half of North Carolina’s annual public expenditures, and spending on the 17-campus university system accounts for a healthy portion of that at roughly $2.6 billion. In an era of tighter public budgets, it therefore stands to reason that the University of North Carolina budget would become an inviting target for conservative leaders in Raleigh.

Yet, even as newly installed Board of Governors members speak about eliminating redundancies in the UNC system, campus leaders contend that further spending cuts threaten their academic mission. It is an approach that should strike the East Carolina University as particularly worrisome, given that the school’s commitment to regional service acts as a lifeline to thousands.

While there were many items to like about the education component of Gov. Pat McCrory’s proposed 2013-15 budget, higher education would see further spending reductions should the plan win legislative approval as is. He would impose some $135 million in cuts, that would inflict additional harm after more than $400 million was trimmed from the budget last year.

At East Carolina, year after year of budget cuts have taken their toll, with the Greenville campus seeing a 16.1 percent loss in appropriations under the 2011-12 budget. While the Legislature has funding areas of emphasis like the opening of the new dental school, the smaller budget prompted a consolidation of academic programs and complicated efforts to retain talented faculty members.

It is especially concerning to hear the word “redundancy” being bandied about, as Harry Leo Smith Jr., a 1992 East Carolina graduate and recent appointee to the UNC Board of Governors, did recently. He called the UNC system out of date and said that a more business-minded approach to budgeting was needed.

That may be true, but he should recall that same argument being used when local officials fought to establish a medical school here some 40 years ago. ECU was told that Chapel Hill’s program served sufficiently and that another school would be redundant. That argument proved incorrect then, and should be viewed with suspicion now.

Greater efficiency is surely a good thing for universities like East Carolina, and it is important that the public’s money be spent wisely and effectively. But there comes a point where squeezing every cent from higher education does more harm than good. North Carolina may well be approaching that tipping point, to the detriment of a tremendous public asset like the UNC system.

via The Daily Reflector.


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