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UNC Budget Savings: A Few Suggestions

This article originally appeared in the Lincoln Tribune on May 4, 2009

UNC President Erskine Bowles says Gov. Bev Perdue’s recommended $165 million in budget cuts will be a bitter pill for the state’s public colleges and universities to swallow. While the cuts to the UNC System’s $2.5 billion budget are significant, they aren’t deadly. The impact of the cuts can be softened by additional savings gathered from a thorough review of existing programs and policies.

Academic Programs. According to the UNC General Administration Web site, there are currently 2,262 approved degree-granting academic programs ranging from agriculture to vocational evaluation. Closer examination reveals not only plenty of overlap and duplication, but also programs with relatively low numbers of graduates.

Nothing against the parks and recreation industry – it’s an important industry – but does North Carolina really need 45 different programs in parks, recreation, leisure and fitness studies, and sports management? If titles are any indication of content, many of the programs seem to be only slight variations of each other. There is a program in Recreation and Park Management (East Carolina University) as well as a program in Parks and Recreation Management (UNC-Greensboro). Can someone tell me if there is a significant difference between Recreation Administration (UNC-Chapel Hill) and Recreation Management (Appalachian State University)?

Need more? UNC offers 33 different programs in Communications, Journalism and Related Programs at 15 institutions. While the larger programs (North Carolina State University and UNC-Chapel Hill) produce a healthy number of graduates each year — several hundred a year – in recent years smaller programs like Elizabeth City State University and Fayetteville State University graduated only seven and nine students in Communication Studies and Speech Communication/Rhetoric respectively.

Academic Courses. UNC should review all courses for program and relevancy. The fact is, UNC course catalogues are filled with lots of courses that warrant either elimination or at least a good healthy discussion. Don’t believe me? How about Honors College 341: Time Travel. According to North Carolina State University, HC 341 is: “a study of contemporary metaphysic organized around the topic of time travel. David Lewis, perhaps the foremost contemporary metaphysician, argues that time travel is possible. His argument is based on ingenious positions about three central topics of metaphysics, personal identity, causation and free will. Students will consider each of these topics in some detail, always with an eye to their implications for time travel.”

Reviewers might also wish to consider Women’s Studies 293: Gender and Imperialism. According to the Women’s Studies Center at UNC-Chapel Hill, this course “focuses on feminist perspectives on imperialism, the effects of imperialism on colonized and European women, women’s participation in anti-imperialist movements and the legacies of imperialism for feminism today.” This course seems more advocacy than educational.

UNC Research Institutes and Centers. There are close to 300 UNC Centers and Institutes within the UNC System. While these entities provide valuable research functions, they are also dependent on state appropriations, contracts staff and facilities. A 2004 report found state appropriations and contracts accounted for about 43 percent of all revenue. Again, regrettably questions of duplication and public benefits emerge. For example, North Carolina Central University houses The Center on Family relations while UNC-Greensboro has the Family Research Center. UNC-Chapel Hill supports the Center for European Studies and the Center for Slavic Eurasian and East European Studies. Considering the current economic conditions, are there sufficient public benefits to justify continued public funding for such narrowly focused projects as the Center for Biology of Nematode Parasitism (UNC-Greensboro) or the Mountain Aquaculture Research Center (Western Carolina University)?

Graduate School Enrollment. One last area which deserves additional public discussion is the changing composition of graduate school enrollment. From 2000-2006 international students represented about 44 percent of all graduate students in engineering. As of fall 2008, international students represented 52 percent of all engineering students at North Carolina State University.

These trends are important for several reasons. First, because of the need for specialized faculty, labs and capital equipment, graduate education in the sciences and engineering is very expensive. As tuition is only one component of actual educational costs, North Carolina taxpayers are in effect providing significant subsidies to international graduate students enrolled in sciences and engineering programs at UNC institutions.

Without the steady influx of foreign graduates, enrollment in many UNC graduate engineering programs would be far lower and budgets commensurately smaller. Larger enrollments have helped to keep labs staffed, programs operating and classrooms full. While North Carolina taxpayers may believe such subsidies are justified by the added institutional, educational and cultural benefits associated with large international student populations, the fact is federal visa restrictions prohibit the vast majority of foreign students educated in our colleges and universities from ever seeking employment in North Carolina or other parts of the United States. The current policy which provides massive subsidies to international students and then requires them to return to their native country is a policy that lacks justification and cries out for reform.

This article was posted in Budget & Taxes, Education by Bob Luebke on May 4, 2009 at 5:35 PM.

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