University of North Carolina (UNC) System President Margaret Spellings spoke before the House committee over appropriations for the education budget Wednesday, making the case for increases to the state university system’s budget.
Spellings presented the system’s operating budget priorities to the committee, which included funding to fill the coffers of the state’s fund for retaining top professors, funding to upgrade systems in the universities, and adjustments for enrollment change.
Excluding merit-based scholarship funding, the system is seeking a $7.4 million increase over the 2015-16 fiscal year budget. That, however, is a $33.9 million decrease over the originally requested amount for the 2016-17 fiscal year.
Spellings approached the committee asking for $3 million to replenish the system’s Faculty Recruitment and Retention Fund.
“Faculty and staff pay is at the top of the priority list,” Spellings said. “You can’t attract and keep world-class talent if we don’t offer competitive pay. In order to retain top talent we are asking for two things: funds for merit-based compensation increases and funds needed to replenish the Faculty Recruitment and Retention Fund.
“We’re asking for merit-based increases on par with those provided by other states. As you know, budget constraints have led to limited increases over the last seven years. It’s imperative that we work together now to keep our top performers. We need your help and support to make sure that we can invest in our faculty and staff and remain competitive for the very best talent while maintaining affordability for students.
“The Faculty Recruitment and Retention Fund helps us recruit and retain the most talented teachers and researchers across the system. The fund will run out next year and we’re asking for $3 million to replenish it. We are in an increasingly competitive market for top faculty and researchers as other states look to recruit our most productive faculty.”
Spellings shared with the committee a recent expenditure from the fund to retain an East Carolina University professor who had millions of dollars in grant money that would have left with him had he accepted the competing offer.
“Earlier this year, an associate professor in the department of microbiology and immunology at ECU’s Brody School of Medicine was offered a position at Kansas State University which also included a research startup packet of $600,000,” she said. “This faculty member garnered over $3.5 million in grant funding from (the National Institutes of Health). Thanks to the faculty recruitment and retention fund, ECU was able to counter Kansas State’s offer and keep this faculty member and his research grants at work in North Carolina. As you know well, it costs us more to replace than it does to retain. That’s why this fund is so important to all of us.”
“We’re also requesting a total of $29 million to help bolster academic support services that improve completion rates and timely graduation and offer long-range savings to students, parents and taxpayers,” Spellings went on to say. “Our student population continues to diversify by race, ethnicity and age. As you may know, at many of our institutions the portion of undergraduates who fit the mold of ‘traditional students’ continues to decline.”
The proposal includes $18 million for innovative intervention strategies to improve completion rates, $3 million each for building a data-centric system of accountability and developing a way to leverage technology and learning innovations to help get students to graduation, as well as $5 million for STEM and health degree merit-based scholarships.
The remaining $18 million in the budget proposal would be split between $2 million to fully fund enrollment change projections and $16 million to eliminate private fundraising caps.