For the first time in three years, North Carolina will have a budget for 2021-23.

After extended negotiations between Gov. Roy Cooper, Senate President Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore, the General Assembly this past week approved a plan that will spend $25.9 billion in 2021-22 and $27 billion in 2022-23.1 Cooper signed it Thursday.

“The state budget that’s passing this week … is a remarkable start on a new era,” said UNC System President Peter Hans. “We’re incredibly grateful to all of our elected leaders for paying attention to public higher education.”

Cooper and legislative leaders had $6.5 billion in surplus funds to work with. Much of the federal money the state received as relief from the coronavirus pandemic is one-time money, and it would be a mistake to commit those dollars to recurring expenses like raises.

But bonuses and capital projects are appropriate uses for one-time money — and legislators took advantage of those.

Hans noted that an infusion of more than $2 billion in capital spending is the biggest capital expenditure for the UNC System since a bond referendum in 2000.

Some highlights:

  • Raises: 2.5 percent in 2021-22 and 2022-23 for all state employees, plus a $1,000 bonus and an additional $500 bonus for any state employee who makes less than $75,000.

“Our faculty and staff have been through a very difficult time over the past 20 months,” said Hans. Still, “They’ve been there for our students day after day.”

  • Faculty Recruitment and Retention Funds: NC Community Colleges rank 41st in the country for faculty salaries. So legislators created a new $8.6 million fund to recruit and retain community college faculty who receive competing offers. The UNC System receives $5 million for its recruitment and retention fund.
  • Repairs and Renovations: The UNC System will receive $250 million in each of the next two years for building repairs. The UNC System has nearly 3,000 buildings that comprise roughly 90 million square feet — roughly the equivalent of 90 shopping malls. So it has an enormous backlog of repair and maintenance needs. The NC Community College System will receive $100 million each year for new construction and repairs and renovations.
  • Project Kitty Hawk: The UNC System will receive $97 million to create Project Kitty Hawk, a nonprofit digital learning platform for UNC System institutions to serve adult learners.

“We have over a million people in this state with some college and no degree,” said Hans. “We think it’s our duty to help these students.”

  • Enrollment Growth: Unlike many universities nationwide, UNC System schools increased their overall enrollment this year. The system will receive $67 million to expand services for the additional students.
  • NC Promise: NC Promise already offers in-state tuition of $500 a semester at Western Carolina University, UNC Pembroke and Elizabeth City State University. The budget adds Fayetteville State University to the program in 2022-23, at a cost of $11.5 million. The total cost will grow to $66 million in 2021-22 and $82.5 million in 2022-23.
  • Engineering the Future: The budget provides $20 million to expand engineering offerings at three campuses: NC State ($12.5 million); UNC Charlotte ($5 million); and N.C. A&T ($2.5 million). N.C. A&T will also receive $5.5 million to support new doctoral programs.
  • Athletic Scholarships: UNC System schools will once again be allowed to count out-of-state athletes who receive full scholarships as in-state residents and pay for their scholarships at in-state tuition rates.
  • Free Tuition for NCSSM/UNCSA high school alums: Graduates of the NC School of Science and Mathematics and the UNC School of the Arts high schools will be guaranteed a four-year scholarship if they attend a UNC System school.
  • NCSSM Morganton: The budget provides $3.9 million in 2021-22 and $6.8 million in 2022-23 to operate the new campus of the School of Science and Math in Morganton, which will open in the summer of 2022.
  • UNC System Move to Raleigh: The budget directs the UNC Board of Governors to move the UNC System Office from Chapel Hill to Raleigh by the end of 2022 and provides $3.75 million for it to lease office space. The budget allocates $11 million in 2022-23 to plan a $100 million structure that would house the UNC System, State Community College System, Department of Public Instruction and the Department of Commerce.
  • Broadband Expansion: $15 million is allocated to improve broadband access at 25 rural community colleges. Beyond that, the budget devotes $970 million to extension of broadband to rural and other unserved areas.

David Rice is a writer for Higher Ed Works, a nonpartisan public charity that supports public higher education in North Carolina.

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