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Community college system pushes for priorities as budget discussions continue

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Members of the House education appropriations committee heard from North Carolina Community College System President Thomas Stith on the system’s priorities today, including increased money for faculty pay, funding for budget stabilization, and more.

Faculty pay increases have been a priority for the system for at least the last two years, due in part to the fact that since 2006, faculty salaries at North Carolina community colleges have ranked among the bottom 10 states every year but one. The lack of competitive pay means that the state’s community colleges lose faculty and staff to both the K-12 and University of North Carolina System, Stith said.

The system is asking for $60,098,240 in recurring dollars for a 5% salary bump for community college employees. Stith said it is just the beginning of what needs to be a long-term push.

“If we don’t start, you’re going to continue to see a drain in talent from the system,” he said.

In addition to pay raises, the system is also seeking $60 million in non-recurring dollars to stabilize budgets at community colleges that have seen a drop in enrollment due to COVID-19.

Funding for IT, cybersecurity, and the other items listed below round out the priorities.

Screenshot of House education appropriations committee presentation.
Screenshot of House education appropriations committee presentation.

Stith put a plug in for the value of the community college system and the need to provide the funding for the system’s priorities. He said that 77% of community college students are employed in North Carolina three years after graduation.

“We think it’s very critical to point out that not only does the community college system play a key role in educating, but they are also the ones staying in North Carolina,” he said.

He added that students who went to state community colleges between 2009 and 2019 make up 33% of North Carolina’s “wage earners.” He said their earnings add up to $59.9 billion. That was money made between 2019 and 2020, according to the Department of Commerce.

“When you’re asking yourself what is our return on investment … the community college system is producing the workforce that is reflected in our economy,” he said.

The committee meeting comes in a week where multiple House appropriations committees are beginning the process of developing a House budget. The Senate and the House generally alternate which chamber drafts the budget bill first each long session. This year, the Senate was slated to go first. But WRAL reported last week that House leaders decided to move forward with developing their own budget despite the lack of a spending plan from the Senate.

Alex Granados

Alex Granados is senior reporter for EducationNC.