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N.C. Community College System leaders present $232 million request to lawmakers

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  • “This student investment request utilizes college flexibility to help them where their specific needs are in their communities," one NCCCS leader told lawmakers.
  • The system’s updated FY 2022-25 legislative agenda seeks increases in employee salaries and student investment – $86.8 million in funding for a 7% salary increase for faculty and staff and $145.88 million in student investment.
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N.C. Community College System (NCCCS) leaders presented the system’s $232 million request for increased state funding over the next two years to lawmakers at a joint education appropriations meeting on Tuesday.

The system’s updated fiscal year 2022-25 legislative agenda seeks increases in employee salaries and student investment – $86.8 million in funding for a 7% salary increase for faculty and staff, and $145.88 million for student investment. You can read EdNC’s report on the system’s legislative priorities here.

“The legislative agenda impact is truly around expanding college capacity in these two main areas – student investment and employee investment,” Brandy Andrews, NCCCS vice president and chief financial officer, told lawmakers on Tuesday. 

The NCCCS legislative agenda approved in January 2022 requested an additional 1% increase for employee salaries and a 4% increase for student investment in the 2022-23 short session. While the community college system received the 1% employee salary increase in the budget passed by the legislature in early July, it did not receive the 4% increase for student investment.

The system’s request will help address college capacity issues, Andrews told lawmakers. The NCCCS is asking for recurring dollars that would add funds on top of the state’s existing funding formula for community colleges, she said.

The $232 million request falls on the heels of a funding cut due to decreased enrollment. Because state funding of community colleges is largely based on enrollment, July’s budget cut NCCCS funding by a little more than $12 million to reflect the enrollment declines seen across the system over the past three years.

On Tuesday, Andrews said the system estimates an overall 1.7% increase in fall 2022 budgeted full-time equivalent (FTE), based on new NCCCS data. That represents an additional 3,800 FTE, she told lawmakers, which is a measure based on the number of accumulated student credit hours. NCCCS headcount data published last week, which counts anyone enrolled in at least one class, shows a 3% increase in total headcount from fall 2021 to fall 2022.

“While the basic skills instruction shows the highest percent increase, I would like to call your attention to the workforce continuing education increase of almost 1,600 FTE,” Andrews said. “This shows our colleges are working hard delivering programs for students to meet workforce needs.”

Screenshot from the N.C. Community College System’s legislative agenda presentation to lawmakers on Feb. 28.

Workforce development

Andrews told lawmakers the system is seeing good results from workforce investments, but a large demand for such funds remains. 

In November 2021, the General Assembly ​​allocated $5.2 million in non-recurring funding to help community colleges start workforce programs with high startup costs. In January, the State Board of Community Colleges allocated those funds to 14 of the system’s colleges

The system received 43 applications, with requests for the $5.2 million in non-recurring workforce funds totaling to more than $20 million.

“The student investment will provide the ability to build capacity to grow and adapt to the state’s economic needs,” Andrews said. “This will be done by leveraging college flexibility to quickly and effectively serve students and the unique needs of each college community.”

NCCCS leaders say, if approved, the request for $145.88 million in student investment would specifically help community colleges implement more innovative solutions to workforce needs.

“As you know, the community colleges are your workforce partner,” NCCCS Interim President Bill Carver told lawmakers. “We take that mantle seriously.”

Screenshot from the N.C. Community College System’s legislative agenda presentation to lawmakers on Feb. 28.

Employee pay

The typical community college instructor in North Carolina has historically earned less than the typical instructor in the country as a whole

North Carolina ranks 41st in the nation for community college faculty pay, according to data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). In comparison, the state ranks 24th in faculty pay at four-year institutions.

It is difficult to find data on staff salary rankings, Andrews told lawmakers, but the system’s request for employee raises does include both faculty and staff. The system calculated its request for a 7% salary increase by taking a weighted average of regional faculty salaries, she said.

Rep. Hugh Blackwell, R-Burke, suggested that the request for employee funding should focus on faculty first.

“What I hear is, ‘We can’t find the faculty,’ and when we give you money to purchase faculty, we don’t get as much faculty because we’re using it to raise pay for staff people,” Blackwell said. “I’m not suggesting that they not get paid, but I’m sort of disappointed that we can’t deal with those two separately.”

Andrews said it’s important that community colleges offer competitive salaries to both faculty and staff.

“Faculty and our instructors are the basis of everything we do at the community college system. Obviously, if we don’t have those high-quality faculty, we can’t provide education to students,” Andrews said. “However, our students require more than just that instructor. They need the support, they need the admissions office, the financial aid office, all of the things that help them become more successful and get them to that completion.” 

Rep. David Willis, R-Union, said lawmakers need better data from the system about how local colleges would spend the additional funds, specifically for employee pay. He said lawmakers need to know what resources the NCCCS needs to compile this information into one comprehensive database.

“It’s long past time that the great 58 start acting like one big system,” Willis said. “I understand the technological efficiencies that are there … but it’s really disturbing that at this point in time that we still don’t have the technological capabilities to have better insight across all 58.”

Student investment

The state currently funds NCCCS students at 53% of UNC System first-year and sophomore students in comparable classes, the Board’s three-year request document says, “despite smaller average class sizes and faculty credentials that meet or exceed those in the UNC System.”

The system’s request would increase the recurring student FTE value to 66% of equivalent UNC courses, Andrews told lawmakers. 

“Once we knew our overall percentage goal, of the 66%, colleges worked to find areas that they needed funding the most,” Andrews said. “This resulted in our overall ask and request based on student investment and employee investment.”

Screenshot from the N.C. Community College System’s legislative agenda presentation to lawmakers on Feb. 28.

In addition to building capacity for workforce programs, Andrews said the student investment funds would also expand resources for students.

At a Feb. 16 joint education appropriations meeting, Rep. Zack Hawkins, D-Durham, asked about how community colleges are meeting student child care needs. On Tuesday, Andrews said that 14 of the system’s colleges have child care options on their campus. Some of those are run by the college, while others are run by third parties.

On Tuesday, Rep. Blackwell also asked about how the N.C. Career Coach Program is faring across the system, and if colleges were working to expand the initiative. 

Kim Gold, NCCCS chief of staff and executive vice president, said community colleges are seeing success from using career coaches. There are 83 career coaches across the state, based on system data.

“When we talk about technical programs, many of our students don’t know what their options are,” Gold said. “We’re making sure that we’re supporting that career planning for students and helping them know what their career options are. So we are seeing good results. But many of our colleges that serve many (local education agencies) and multiple districts still only have one career coach to serve multiple high schools.”

If funded, the $232 million request could help colleges expand career coach, child care programs, and more, Andrews said. 

According to internal NCCCS survey data of each community college, colleges reported that they intend to use the extra funds to expand or create programs to meet workforce needs and to improve student supports and institutional services.

“Colleges explained how they struggled to be able to meet industry needs, how they struggled to find counselors, coordinators and expand,” Andrews said. “This student investment request utilizes college flexibility to help them where their specific needs are in their communities.”

EdNC will be following all education and budget updates in the long session. You can keep up with all legislative updates here, to be updated weekly. For postsecondary updates specifically, follow us on Twitter @Awake58NC.

Hannah Vinueza McClellan

Hannah McClellan is EducationNC’s senior reporter and covers education news and policy, and faith.