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Community colleges get 3% raises, budget stabilization, start-up funds for new programs, and more in Senate budget

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On Monday, June 21, the Senate released their two-year spending plan for the state. For community colleges, the budget includes a 3% pay raise for personnel, $76 million for budget stabilization, and $5.2 million to fund high-cost workforce programs. There are also funds for broadband in rural areas, adult learner programs, cybersecurity, and more.

The Senate’s total general fund budget includes about $25.7 billion in 2021-22 and about $26.6 billion in 2022-23. Community colleges would be funded at $1.26 billion in 2021-22 and $1.32 billion in 2022-23.

See the full budget bill here. See the money report here.

Pay increases

It’s not the 7.5% salary increase included in Gov. Roy Cooper’s budget. And it’s not the 5% pay increase the North Carolina Community College System requested. The Senate’s proposed budget includes a 3% raise for community college personnel over the next two years.

The Senate budget would provide funding for an across-the-board salary increase of 1.5% effective July 1, 2021. An additional increase of 1.5% would be effective July 1, 2022. Using funds from the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act, the Senate budget allocates a $1,000 bonus for full-time state employees and local education employees. The budget also allocates an additional $500 bonus to employees with an annual salary less than $75,000.

For state-funded community college employees, the budget provides funding to implement a $13/hour minimum wage. As for part-time faculty members, the pro-rata hourly rate of the minimum salary for each education level would be used to determine the minimum salary. 

While many leaders are excited about funds for additional programs, capital needs being met, and start-up monies for high-cost workforce programs, some community college presidents have expressed their disappointment with the 3% raise.

“The only part that I am overwhelmingly disappointed in is the employee salaries,” said David Shockley, president of Surry Community College.

Shockley said that, at a minimum, it should have been a 5% pay increase because community college personnel have not received a raise in the last two years.

“We got caught in the crossfire between the General Assembly and the governor, and I know that impasse cost us,” he said.

In a June press conference, the Federal Reserve predicted inflation will rise to 3.4% this year – that’s 1% higher than what they projected in March. As it is now, the proposed 3% pay increase over two years would not account for projected inflation.

“We’re going to lose the hearts and souls of the community college employees,” Shockley said. “All of the capital and all of [the proposed funding] is not enough … if you don’t have the human capital to make it all work day in and day out,” said Shockley.

“We’ve lost hope in the journey. The employees at the individual level are losing faith in the General Assembly at ever taking care of us and helping us have livable wages.”

David Shockley, president of Surry Community College

Since 2006, faculty salaries at North Carolina community colleges have ranked among the bottom 10 states for every year but one. Even within the state, faculty pay at North Carolina community colleges ranks below that of their educator peers. At four-year public universities, faculty pay ranks 24th in the nation. For K-12, teacher pay ranks 33rd in the nation.

“It is becoming increasingly difficult to recruit and retain employees when they can go elsewhere and earn a higher salary,” said John Gossett, president of Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College (A-B Tech).

Community college employees are vital to the growth of our state, particularly as we move out of the COVID era and work to rebuild our economy,” Gossett continued.

North Carolina Community College System president Thomas Stith said he is thankful for the support of the system’s legislative requests in the Senate’s budget.

“As the budget process continues, we look forward to continuing conversations to address faculty and staff salaries,” Stith said. “Pay increases will help retain and recruit the talent needed to educate and train the state’s workforce for current and future jobs.”

Budget stabilization

COVID-19 significantly impacted enrollment at North Carolina community colleges. In fall 2020, enrollment fell 11% statewide.

In North Carolina, the overwhelming majority of state funding for community colleges is based on enrollment. Since 2013, state funding has been allocated to colleges based on enrollment from the previous two academic years.

In a Joint Education Appropriations Committee meeting in February, Stith addressed enrollment declines as part of a $61 million request for budget stabilization funds.

“Community colleges across the country have been impacted from an enrollment point of view. Our system is not immune to that. While we don’t see some of the same impact as you see across the country, there has been an impact in the state of North Carolina, and it will require support financially as we move forward through recovery,” Stith said.

The Senate budget addresses the enrollment declines due to the COVID-19 pandemic by allocating $76 million for budget stabilization for community colleges. The $76 million is a portion of the state’s American Rescue Plan Act dollars. These funds must be spent by the end of the 2024 calendar year.

“We are extremely pleased the Senate has included budget stability funding for colleges that have seen a significant pandemic-related impact on enrollment,” said Kandi Deitemeyer, president of Central Piedmont Community College.

Start-up funds for high-cost workforce programs

The Senate is allocating $5.2 million over the biennium to help community colleges start new programs in high-demand career fields that require significant start-up funds.

“The start-up funds will be critical as colleges respond to their communities post-pandemic and provide programs to prepare students for high-demand careers during a time of declining enrollments and diminishing budgets,” said Mark Poarch, president of Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute (CCC&TI).

CCC&TI recently experienced the challenges associated with starting a new program. In response to the growing biopharmaceutical sector, CCC&TI is launching a new program to help meet the workforce needs of local industry. The cost to start the new program now exceeds $1 million.

“These program start-up funds will be a game changer for colleges and their ability to respond to business/industry demands in a timely manner.”

Mark Poarch, president of Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute

If what’s in the Senate budget becomes law, the system office will establish an application process for community colleges to apply for these funds. According to the Senate budget bill, a community college would only be able to apply for the funds to support one new program each fiscal year. Colleges would also be required to match a percentage of the total cash cost of the program with non-state funds.

Short-term workforce development grants

In fall 2020, enrollment in short-term workforce training programs dropped 22% from the previous fall.

In early 2021, a Census survey found that 30% of North Carolina adults who planned to take college classes this year cancelled their plans, and half said it was because of income changes.

The Senate budget is allocating $3 million in each year of the biennium for a community college short-term workforce grant program. The funds would provide up to $750 to students pursuing workforce credentials.

“These grants will remove barriers, lead to more equitable outcomes, and swing open the doors to economic mobility for more North Carolinians,” said Nate Humphrey, associate vice president for workforce and continuing education programs at the North Carolina Community College System (NCCCS).

If approved, both the State Board of Community Colleges and the Department of Commerce will be responsible for determining eligible programs of study for the grant program. These would be based on occupations that are in the highest demand in the state and would include programs like architecture and construction, health sciences, information technology, and more.

Cybersecurity support

Since 2019, there have been four cyberattacks at community colleges in North Carolina.

“We are in a threat pattern where higher educational institutions and medium to large-sized businesses are targets,” said Jim Parker, senior vice president and CIO of technology solutions and distance learning at the NCCCS, in a previous interview.

At February’s State Board of Community Colleges meeting, the system office outlined the impact of the four ransomware attacks. The State Board of Community Colleges approved the following legislative priorities related to cybersecurity:

The Senate budget allocates $1.49 million in recurring funds to hire nine IT security and compliance manager positions. The funds would also help pay for the associated operating costs to assist community colleges in preventing and responding to cyberattacks.

Pamela Senegal, president of Piedmont Community College said, “Their [cybersecurity officers’] total responsibility is to stay current with the latest cyberattack tactics, to monitor our logs for suspicious activity, and to make recommendations about policy settings that we should have, or make, as a result of potential new vulnerabilities that literally come out every day.”

Broadband

When community colleges moved the majority of classes online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it only further highlighted the need for reliable broadband internet.

As Stith previously said,”When you talk about underserved communities, and also our communities in rural North Carolina, the importance of broadband and access to broadband cannot be overstated.”

To address the growing needs of broadband access, the Senate is allocating $15 million of ARP dollars in the first year of the biennium to improve broadband access for 25 rural community colleges.

Adult learner pilot programs

In September 2020, Strada Center for Education and Consumer insights surveyed adults across the country and discovered that adults were more interested than ever in training opportunities. Their interest was strongest in short-term, non-degree credentials training that directly connected to their employability. Some of their biggest concerns were that they didn’t have enough information about their options. 

In the second year of the biennium, the Senate budget allocates $2 million to serve adult learners at community colleges. The budget document states the funds would expand five pilot initiatives at community colleges that are targeting adult learners to return to higher education to gain new skills, advance in the workplace, and fulfill their goals of completing a degree or credential.

The bill states the funds would be used for marketing, outreach, and enrollment of students into programs at the existing community college pilot sites and to expand the pilots to other community colleges.

Adult learners are key to our state’s recovery efforts and meeting the attainment goal of 2 million by 2030, said Laura Leatherwood, president of Blue Ridge Community College.

“Our economy and our state right now are really depending on our community colleges to do this work. There’s a business/economic imperative that’s immediate. We need to get people back into the workforce as quickly as possible and community colleges are the tools to do that.”

Laura Leatherwood, president of Blue Ridge Community College

Blue Ridge Community College is one of the five pilot initiatives for adult learners.

Other items to note

In May 2021, Gov. Roy Cooper announced the Longleaf Commitment grant program. Using COVID-19 federal aid, Cooper is providing $31.5 million to help ensure high school graduates do not fall out of the education pipeline for good.

The grant guarantees that eligible students receive $700 to $2,800 per year for a total of two years if they attend one of the state’s 58 community colleges.

In June, the State Board of Community Colleges allocated $725,000 for a statewide awareness campaign. The Senate budget allocates an additional $6 million in the first year of the biennium to expand outreach and student advising capacity to support the Longleaf Commitment grant program. The $6 million is part of ARP funds.

The Senate budget also includes $1.5 million per year for child care grant funding. This funding would enable community college students to apply for financial assistance with child care expenses.

The Senate budget allocates $500,000 in the first year of the biennium for the RISE Up program. The program would roll out to all Cooperative Innovative High Schools and teach foundational skills in customer service, sales, inventory management, profitability, supply chain, warehousing, and logistics. The community college system office would partner with North Carolina Retail Merchants Association and the Retail Consumer Alliance Foundation.

The Senate budget also includes $750,000 for an economic impact study of the state’s community colleges by the Center for Applied Research (CFAR) at Central Piedmont Community College. CFAR would partner with the system office, the North Carolina Association of Community College Presidents, and the Belk Center for Community College Leadership and Research.

If approved, the study would evaluate the labor dynamics within the state, the impact community colleges have on students and businesses, and high-demand programs in regional areas of the state.

The Senate budget allocates $2 million for implementation of recommendations from the economic impact study.

In an emailed statement on Wednesday, chair of the Senate Education/Higher Education Committee Sen. Deanna Ballard, R-Alleghany, said:

The Senate budget investments reflect a sincere view that our community colleges will be a critical piece of North Carolina’s post-COVID recovery. I believe our investments in workforce training continue to strengthen our efforts to better support work-based learning opportunities and getting those students credentialed and employed swiftly. The Senate budget supports our community colleges in leading the way to high-demand career fields by providing funds to offset significant start-up costs for new programs.  In collaboration with various community college presidents and education partners across the system, you’ll see additional funding for how we can really serve and meet needs of adult learners, increased funding for the Child Care Grant Program, as well as $750 dollars to support students complete a credential through the NC Community College Short-Term Workforce Development Grant Program.  Also important to note is the $400 million Building Fund for much needed repair and renovation or new construction work across the system.”

In response to the Senate landing on a 3% raise for community college personnel, Ballard said:

The Senate focused on a consistent package for employees across state government. It is important to note that in addition to the 3% raise, the Senate budget includes the implementation of a $13 per hour minimum wage and includes the allocation of fiscal recovery funds for a $1,000 or $1,500 bonus.  Knowing we still have a process to work through with the House, we’ll continue to track and keep in touch with the NC Community College System Office and Presidents’ Association.

Emily Thomas

Emily Thomas is a policy analyst for EducationNC.