As the General Assembly continues their discussion of sales tax distribution trying to find a balance that is fair and equitable for all NC counties, Sen David Curtis raises the issue of differences among NC’s universities.

He writes:

Two North Carolinas” and “two UNC Systems”

There has been much discussion recently about our “two North Carolinas.” One is the thriving N. C. enjoying high incomes, low unemployment, high job growth, growing tax base and rapid population growth. The other N. C. is the poor areas with low wages, high unemployment, declining tax base, and declining population. The N.C. legislature recognizes this problem and is trying to address it on many levels. The recent proposal to change the sales tax distribution formula is an effort to get more revenue to the poor North Carolina. The JDIG business grants are designed to give businesses a bigger incentive to create jobs in the poor North Carolina. The state school budget gives extra money to the “low wealth” school districts. Thus the problem is recognized and is being addressed.

In dramatic contrast there is virtually no discussion about the “two UNC systems” within our UNC System. I suggest that this issue also deserves to be discussed and addressed. We have two campuses that are considered to be among the elite public university campuses in the country. These two campuses are thriving with high admission standards, regularly receive national awards for excellence, and bring in nearly a billion dollars in grant money to our state. These campuses can be favorably compared to the “rich” North Carolina which is thriving economically. Unfortunately we also have campuses that are at the other end of the academic spectrum. These campuses have low admission standards, admit thousands of unprepared students who are not prepared to do college level work and have little chance of graduating. This unfortunate situation leads to drop out rates approaching 70%, state tax cost well over $100,000 per degree, and high student loan default rates. It also wastes hundreds of millions of state tax dollars, federal tax dollars, and personal family dollars. We are doing a huge disserve to all stake holders – students, parents, and tax payers by allowing this practice to continue.

Recently two of our campuses received the dubious distinction of being named to the list of 10 worst campuses in the country for 20 year return on investment on tuition. These campuses compare favorably to the “poor” North Carolina described above. This problem is dramatically more significant than a small number of players taking pseudo classes that has received so much attention.

We seem to be making a serious effort to deal with our “two North Carolina” problem. I would argue that we should make an equally concerted effort to address our “two UNC System” challenge.