The Senate Budget and Community Colleges

By: - June 17, 2008 10:46 am

The broad contours of the N.C. Senate's funding plan for the state's model system of community colleges are similar to those in the proposed House budget. Both chambers plan to modestly increase overall funding levels relative to system needs and direct some resources to address certain long-standing challenges. The Senate budget, however, contains a few "tweaks" that limit the colleges' ability to meet workforce shortages in certain high-demand, higher-wage fields.

Overall, the Senate would add about $31.1 million ($23.8 million in recurring dollars, $7.3 million in non-recurring ones) to the budget approved in 2007. This 3.5-percent increase would bring the total state appropriation to $930.7 million. (Community colleges also receive local funds and tuition receipts). The House, in contrast, would provide $33.2 million in expansion funding to the community college system. This represent an increase of 4 percent.

Both chambers would provide an additional $23.8 million in recurring funds to accommodate unexpected enrollment growth resulting from the current economic downtown. Both chambers also would provide $2.5 million in non-recurring funding to support the system's enrollment growth reserve fund, which exists to help meet unanticipated enrollment increases. (In 2008, the fund had $2 million available but the system actually incurred $12.2 million in costs; the net difference went unfunded.)

Both the House and Senate budgets provide funding  for four critical areas: additional support for high-cost allied health care programs, the purchase of instructional equipment, the renewal of technical and educational programs, and funding for the promising minority male mentoring program.

Yet the two chambers differ in their level of support. The Senate provides less for allied health programs ($3 million vs. $4 million in the House), equipment ($4 million vs. $5.5 million in the House) and minority male mentoring ($0.475 vs. $1 million in the House). Some of the reduced funding is used to support projects not in the House budget while the rest is subtracted from the overall community college budget.

The Senate's reductions are troubling in that they come directly from programs that benefit students and employers. The allied health programs train students for better-paying careers in fields experiencing shortages of qualified workers, while the instructional equipment makes it possible for students to prepare for lucrative careers in important vocational and technical fields. Similarly, the minority male mentoring program provides at-risk students with the support needed to persist and complete credential-bearing programs.  

Although the House and Senate budgets are in broad agreement about key issues, the Senate's differences suggest a lack of awareness of some of the most important issues confronting the community colleges, as well as those confronting industries facing critical shortages of skilled workers.

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