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Originally published: 2013-06-29 17:13:53
Last modified: 2013-06-29 17:13:53

UNC system president outlines budget, policies

by Anna Oakes

University of North Carolina system President Tom Ross met with the Appalachian State University board of trustees in Boone Thursday and discussed budget and policy issues for the 17-campus system.

"It's a critical two weeks for us," he said, referring to the ongoing state budget negotiations in Raleigh.

The N.C. Senate and House budget bills would have different impacts on the public university system.
The Senate bill has a lower overall cut in appropriations to the UNC system and gives system leaders greater flexibility in how the cuts are made.

The House bill provides funding for projects of the recently adopted UNC Strategic Plan.

Ross expressed concern over a provision in the House budget that would increase tuition for out-of-state students by 12.3 percent.

"We will lose out-of-state students," he said. "We lose talent."

Ross said many out-of-state students remain in the state after graduating; 50 percent of out-of-state students who graduated three years ago are still here and 90 percent of them are working.

ASU trustee Martin Lancaster, referring to increased tuition hikes, asked Ross at what point the state could be sued over the unconstitutional cost of higher education.

The North Carolina Constitution states that "The General Assembly shall provide that the benefits of  the University of North Carolina and other public institutions of higher education, as far as practicable, be extended to the people of the state free of expense."

Ross said the provision is subject to interpretation and that UNC tuition remains low compared with peer institutions. But he acknowledged Lancaster's sentiments, noting that UNC has cut costs by 17 percent while increasing degrees by 17 percent.

"When's enough enough?" Ross said. "Is efficiency the ultimate goal or is excellence the ultimate goal?"

Ross said that universities are being asked to prioritize their programs, focusing on programs they do well and that are needed and reducing redundancies across the system.

"We're at a point where we have to make some really hard decisions," he said.

ASU Provost Lori Gonzalez began the program prioritization process last year.

Ross said the UNC system will be taking a closer look at budget transparency in athletics and the roles of boards of trustees in monitoring athletics.