Policy Position

Higher Education Policy

in Education
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North Carolinians are proud of their higher education system — both the University of North Carolina, which has sixteen college campuses, and the 58-school community college system.

But much of their reputation is based on a belief in quality that may not be accurate.

Only 64 percent of UNC students graduate in six years. Two-thirds of those graduates carry debt, ranging from an average of $16,983 at UNC-Chapel Hill to $28,119 at NC A&T. For those who drop out, the burden is greater, because getting a good job is more difficult.

Even college graduates are having a hard time finding a job in today’s economy, especially those who declared a major in a marginal field or took relatively easy courses through school. As a result, many lack the discipline, knowledge, and skills developed through rigorous coursework.

Key Facts

  • Higher education represents about 18 percent of the state’s General Fund budget. UNC received $2.5 billion in 2012-2013, and the community college system received $990 million.
  • The total budget of the UNC system is nearly four times as large, or $9 billion. That includes tuition, donations, federal grants, etc.
  • The state subsidizes UNC at $13,442 per residential student (2010). At UNC-Chapel Hill, that figure is $16,932.
  • UNC faculty are well-compensated. In 2010-11, average pay ranged from a low of $61,818 at UNC-Pembroke to $108,578 at UNC-Chapel Hill. Median household income in North Carolina was $46,450 during the same period.
  • UNC enrollment is flat overall, and declining at some schools. Over time, that will put less pressure on the state to fund the universities and may spur university cost control.
  • Members of the UNC Board of Governors have questioned whether some funds from tuition ought to go to need-based aid, as is the current policy.
  • The Board of Governors is considering a rule requiring that all religious groups be allowed to keep out members who don’t share their views. A bill is also under consideration by the General Assembly.
  • University officials are spearheading changes to the administration of athletic programs at UNC system schools. Alumni of UNC-Chapel Hill have had their loyalty tested by an ongoing scandal related to athletics and academic “no-show” courses. A chancellor quit because of it, and a state district attorney is still investigating.
  • Gov. Pat McCrory has recommended that the community colleges be allowed to keep savings that they have accrued through greater efficiency.
  • Community college officials have asked the legislature to consider letting them give “applied baccalaureate degrees.” All community colleges now give only associate’s degrees and certificates.


The elected members of the NC General Assembly should consider the following measures:

  1. Keep UNC’s budget under control, because that is the only way that reform will occur.
  2. Change the funding method to include student learning outcomes, not just enrollment.
  3. Insist on financial transparency by making expenditures available as far down as the department level.

The Board of Governors for the UNC system should approve the following reforms:

  1. Review faculty course loads, especially in the humanities, where the emphasis on research has led to inadequate teaching and unnecessary research.
  2. Authorize a complete review of general education (the “core curriculum”) in all UNC schools.

Initiatives led by UNC system administrators should include the following:

  1. Continue to raise minimum admission standards.
  2. Reduce the number of administrators.
  3. Increase academic transparency by making course syllabi available online.



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