Friday, April 12, 2024

UNC System seeks state aid as enrollment drops 5% in Asheville, Greensboro, Pembroke

Facing enrollment declines, UNC System officials plan to ask lawmakers next year for additional funding for three campuses where the decline in students has been particularly sharp.

On Thursday, the UNC Board of Governors approved a proposal that would limit the funding drop for the coming year. State funding for each university is tied to enrollment figures, and recent drops could result in multi-million dollar budget cuts if no action is taken.

UNC Greensboro could be hardest hit, with initial projections showing a 6.2% funding decrease over two years – resulting in a $11.2 million budget cut. The approved plan would cap the two-year drop for funding calculations at 4.5%. That would mean UNC Greensboro would still face a cut, but it would total about $3 million less.

In addition to UNC Greensboro, the cap would ease the pain at UNC Asheville – which is facing a 5.7% drop and a $2.7 million shortfall – and UNC Pembroke, which is facing a 5% drop and a $3.9 million shortfall.

Eleven of the 16 campuses reported lower enrollment this fall compared with last year, according to preliminary data. The exceptions are UNC Chapel Hill, N.C. State, Elizabeth City State, Appalachian State and UNC Wilmington.

Eight campuses are expecting enrollment-based funding decreases, but those won’t be deep enough to be affected by the proposed 4.5% cap.

At a committee meeting Wednesday, Board of Governors member Jim Holmes said he sees the budget reprieve as a temporary fix to give universities time to adjust. “I do believe that we’re in an anomalytic time and we’re going to see enrollment come up,” he said. “If we’re back here next year with the same conversation, I would not personally support a continued approval of a funding cap.”

Another Board of Governors member, former state budget director Art Pope, questioned why UNC Greensboro increased its administration expenses at a faster pace than enrollment over five years. “We need to be right-sizing the campuses, and that’s going to vary from campus to campus,” he said.

UNC Greensboro Chancellor Franklin Gilliam defended his school’s situation. He said the enrollment drop hit UNCG particularly hard because a high percentage of its students are low-income or minorities, demographics that were hit hard during the pandemic.

He said he’s already made cuts, including eliminating faculty positions and reducing the overall workforce by 5%. “We recognize that we have to right-size the university and we’ve been taking steps to do so,” Gilliam said. “We’re talking about people here, we’re talking about taking away their livelihoods.”

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