RALEIGH (July 29, 2020) – Funding for public education in North Carolina can be uncertain even in good times.
Now try it in the midst of a global pandemic.
In the following excerpts from Zoom webinars Higher Ed Works hosted last week, state legislative leaders discuss the many uncertainties they face in budgeting for public education.
House Speaker Tim Moore says North Carolina is in a better position than many states because of cautious budgeting. Yet the state still faces a $5-6 billion shortfall and the duration of the pandemic and availability of a vaccine remain unknown:
Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue and Minority Whip Jay Chaudhuri see serious challenges for the state budget after the current budget year, and they say support for higher education must remain a top priority. They expect higher education to help pull the state out of the pandemic and its accompanying recession:
University revenues will be fundamentally altered if students aren’t on campus, says Moore:
Moore expects additional aid from the federal government, as well as more flexibility in how states can use federal dollars:
Blue notes that the General Assembly still hasn’t spent $500 million that was allocated by Congress this spring, and Chaudhuri says measures being debated in Washington could provide student debt forgiveness and more direct aid to higher education:
Moore says he supports North Carolina’s constitutional mandate for low college tuition. He notes that the state has implemented fixed tuition for university students; NC Promise, which provides in-state tuition of $500 a semester at three universities; and Early College, which can allow a student to graduate from a university in just two years:
Blue says North Carolina sometimes forgets its constitutional requirement, which allows the state to build and sustain a successful middle class. Chaudhuri says low tuition means low student debt, greater lifetime income for graduates, and a better-engaged citizenry. Blue says the state should expand NC Promise to more institutions:
The pandemic arrived as North Carolina embarks on the goal of myFutureNC to provide 2 million North Carolinians ages 25-44 with a degree or high-quality credential by 2030.
Moore says the goal is still attainable, and that higher education is more a necessity than a luxury in the emerging economy. He says he expects greater enrollment at community colleges, but he is worried about the effects on the youngest students as they miss out on in-person instruction:
Chaudhuri – a child of immigrants himself – says the state could help reach the myFutureNC goal by allowing “Dreamers,” the children of undocumented immigrants, to pay in-state college tuition. He notes that more than 20 states, including Texas, do so:
Responding to an audience member, Blue says full-time instructors at community colleges deserve pay comparable to K-12 teachers. Chaudhuri notes that NC community college pay ranks low nationally, yet community colleges are the most likely to see increased enrollment during a recession:
Responding to another audience member, Moore says university faculty and staff deserve pay that competes with and surpasses that of peer institutions. He notes that UNC System faculty have been poached by competing universities in recent years:
What’s the future of online education? Chaudhuri notes that the abrupt shift to online classes in the spring wasn’t popular and says the state must improve quality. Blue notes a new appreciation for teachers and says the pandemic accelerated the move to online instruction. But he says officials must pay attention to inequities revealed by the pandemic:
Despite the pandemic, Chaudhuri says he remains hopeful about NC public education and says investments in education will help build a stronger, smarter North Carolina:
You can watch the full webinar sessions here.