As the North Carolina General Assembly convenes to deliberate a new biennium budget, ongoing financial uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic may continue to disrupt funding for the UNC Tuition Grant for NCSSM Graduates.
Recently released UNC System budget priorities generally emphasize pandemic response. The priorities focus on needs exacerbated by the pandemic, including facility maintenance and repairs, enrollment growth, and employee compensation, as despite teaching more students than ever during a dangerous pandemic, UNC System employees have received no state compensation increases in three years. Enrollment demand has increased as students prepare themselves for post-pandemic economic opportunity. Backlogged facility maintenance needs, such as updated air filtration systems, have been identified as important pandemic control measures.
“This is not a moment for sweeping plans,” UNC President Peter Hans said of budget planning this past October as reported in the News & Observer. “This is a moment for keeping our most important promises to the students and citizens of North Carolina, including identifying potential savings that can be carried forward into the next fiscal year.” Hans and the UNC Board of Governors hold accessibility and affordability of higher education for NC residents as a top priority.
As the pandemic began last spring and shelter-in-place directives shut down vast sectors of the economy, state leaders braced for a state revenue shortfall in excess of $4 billion. Though steep shortfalls have not materialized and legislators have avoided sweeping reductions to K-12 and higher education budgets, the tuition grant was not authorized for the class of 2020 and may not be funded in the future.
Rather than a budget shortfall, the News & Observer recently reported that the balance of unspent state appropriations has grown to $4.1 billion in non-recurring funds. The total costs of the pandemic response and the economic downturn remain uncertain, prompting debate about the best use of this balance. Many legislators say the funds are best suited for one-time costs, such as medical supplies and equipment, emergency funds for individuals and businesses, repairs to facilities and roadways, and other capital investments to stimulate the economy.
Still, NC Sen. Ralph Hise ’94 of Spruce Pine recently introduced Senate Bill 108 to re-establish the tuition grant program. Bi-partisan co-sponsors include Sen. Mike Woodard of Durham. Companion measures may be introduced in the NC House.
“We are grateful to Senators Hise and Woodard and the other co-sponsors of SB 108 for supporting our students and families with legislation to re-establish the UNC Tuition Grant for NCSSM Graduates,” said Brock Winslow, NCSSM Vice Chancellor for External Relations and the school’s legislative liaison. “Though it remains to be seen whether the tuition grant will be funded, we will continue to work closely with members of the NC General Assembly and UNC System leaders on initiatives that support our mutual priorities and benefit our graduates, such as keeping higher education accessible and affordable for all North Carolinians and uniform academic articulation, which conveys UNC System credit for college-level courses taken at NCSSM. Similar to a tuition grant, articulation also incentivizes our graduates to enroll in UNC System institutions and reduces the overall cost of college by decreasing the time and credits it takes to earn an undergraduate degree.”
For more information, contact Brock Winslow, Vice Chancellor for External Relations, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (919) 416-2864.