Monday, August 19, 2013
The start of classes at East Carolina University today brings with it a new sense of life to the area around both the central and medical campuses. It offers a tangible reminder that changes made to higher education in Raleigh have an immediate effect on Greenville and Pitt County, and that spending on the state university system benefits this community.
There has been for years an attempt to redistribute the burden of funding state universities, increasingly shifting the balance from taxpayers to students through higher tuition. When coupled with repeated annual spending cuts, however, the practical effect is to offer less while charging more — a bad deal for those seeking a college education and a worrisome trend for this community.
Earlier this month, University of North Carolina system President Tom Ross offered students across the 16-campus network a rare and welcome promise. His administration, backed by the Board of Governors, would recommend no tuition increases for the coming year, halting for the time being an upward trend that has seen the cost of college rise 90 percent for in-state students in the last decade.
The good news is that, despite the hikes, the schools in the UNC system are still a tremendous value when compared to other states. The concern is that the quality of the education offered will decline as a result of smaller state appropriations and campuses without the means of exacting greater efficiency in their operations.
In the recently approved budget, the UNC system was given $126.5 million less than its projected needs, a blow that comes in addition to more than $400 million in cuts imposed by Raleigh in 2011. East Carolina has been asked to absorb a 3.7 percent decrease in available funding, on top of the $49.1 million cut it swallowed two years ago. That came amid concerns that core services would be threatened as a result.
At a certain point, shifting the cost burden of higher education onto students while, at the same time, cutting funding to those schools threatens to diminish the attraction of the UNC system. It is a risk that North Carolina lawmakers appear willing to accept, one that will become more pronounced as diminished revenue collection forces deeper cuts to the state budget.
For Greenville and Pitt County — communities powered in large measure by the economic engine that is East Carolina — the gamble is a bad one and the long-term implications are frightful.