UNC President Tom Ross is not an alarmist. He didn’t raise his voice at all as he discussed the impact of the House budget on the university in his remarks Tuesday’s at a Crucial Conversation luncheon held by N.C. Policy Watch.
He didn’t have to. He just provided the numbers about what the 15.5 percent cuts proposed by the House would do to the university system and the students who attend it.
Fifty-five hundred students who currently receive financial aid would no longer get it and every student who receives aid will receive less next year if the House gets its way.
And that’s a lot of students. Sixty percent of enrollees in a UNC school rely on financial aid help to pay for their education and 40 percent of them have family income levels that qualify them for Pell grants.
The need for help keeps increasing as the cost of living rises and as tuition goes up. Tuition has increased 148 percent at UNC schools in the last ten years, 39 percent in the last three. That’s a big increase for state with a constitution that says higher education must be provided to every state resident as “free as practicable.”
The House proposal would mean the elimination of 11,000 class offerings across all the campuses, more than ten percent of the classes the system offers, making it virtually impossible for many students to take the classes they need to graduate on time.
It would result in more than 3,000 layoffs, including hundreds of faculty members.
The House budget will mark the fifth year in a row the university budget has been slashed. The cuts made in the last four years total 620 million dollars out of a $2.7 billion budget.
Ross also talked about the economic impact of the UNC system, the research investments, the spin off companies, the role the campuses play in attracting businesses to the state.
Some numbers he didn’t mention come from a report prepared in 2009 by Dr. Mike Walden, an economist at N.C. State and an adjunct scholar at the John Locke Foundation, a place where Republican leaders often look for policy guidance.
Walden found that the direct annual economic impact on the state of the university system is $8.4 billion, $10.4 billion when you take into account the multiplier effect.
And he found that every dollar the state spends on the universities is responsible for between $12 and $15 of income and as much $2.10 in increased state and local public revenues.
The university system is clearly one of the state’s most important economic engines. You would think that lawmakers who claim that jobs are their top priority would far less willing to damage it.
The Senate budget would cut university by 12 percent, not 15. That would still do serious damage to the system and the Senate found the money by cutting more from public schools and community colleges than the House.
Firing more public school teachers to fire a few less college professors is nothing to celebrate and that is not the real choice that lawmakers face anyway. They could instead listen to the majority of voters who would rather leave the sales tax at the current rate than devastate public schools or the university system.
And they could look at the numbers.