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Community colleges and the budget: Pay increases, capital investments, and cybersecurity

Almost one month has passed since Gov. Roy Cooper signed the biennium budget into law.  It’s a spending plan that reflects what some in the N.C. Community College System (NCCCS) call a tremendous investment by the General Assembly in North Carolina’s community colleges.

“As a system, we’re very pleased with the General Assembly’s tremendous investment in North Carolina’s community colleges,” said Dr. Mark Poarch, president of Caldwell Community College & Technical Institute (CCC&TI) and president of the North Carolina Association of Community College Presidents (NCACCP). “In my 30-year career, I’ve never seen an investment of this magnitude.”

The net appropriation for the North Carolina Community College System is more than $1.3 billion in each year of the biennium. The budget allocates $1.31 billion for 2021-22 and $1.34 billion for 2022-23. According to a press release from the system office, this budget is the largest the system has received in the last decade. 

“This budget reflects the critical role the community college system serves in our higher education and economic development ecosystem,” Thomas Stith, president of NCCCS, said.

Highlights from the budget include a 5% salary increase over two years for community college personnel, a one-time bonus, minimum wage increases, close to $80 million in budget stabilization funds, over $20 million to recruit and retain faculty, and almost $495 million in state capital and infrastructure funds.

You can view the full budget bill here. The most recent version of the conference committee report can be found here. The committee report provides details on the increases and decreases of the budget. 

Pay increases

Community colleges have not had pay increases for the last few years after Gov. Cooper and the General Assembly failed to reach a compromise on the 2019 biennium budget and Cooper vetoed the bill.

In this year’s budget request, the North Carolina Community College System asked the state for a 5% raise for employees. The budget Cooper signed on Nov. 18 includes a 5% salary increase for community college personnel over the next two years. Salaries will increase 2.5% in the first year of the biennium, with an effective date of July 1, 2021. Starting July 1, 2022, personnel will receive another 2.5% increase. 

A one-time bonus for full-time state and local education employees is also included in the budget. Full-time employees making less than $75,000 a year will receive a $1,500 bonus. Those who earn more than $75,000 annually will receive a $1,000 bonus. 

The budget provides funds to raise the minimum wage of state-funded employees to $13 an hour in the first year of the biennium and $15 an hour in the second year.

A chart included in the budget bill outlines the minimum salary a full-time faculty member can earn based on their education level.

There is also guidance in the budget bill for determining part-time faculty pay. Pay for part-time faculty is based on the minimum salary a full-time faculty member can earn. Community colleges use the pro-rata hourly rate of the minimum salary for each education level to determine the minimum salary for part-time faculty members. 

For the first-time, community colleges will receive funding to recruit and retain faculty in high-need areas. The budget gives a little more than $8.6 million in the first year and more than $12 million in the second year for this fund.

“In the end, most of our priorities were funded and a much-needed pay increase for community college employees was approved. There is still more work to do in that area, but the salary increase passed for this biennium will help in our efforts to recruit and retain high-quality faculty and staff.”

Dr. Mark Poarch, president of Caldwell Community College & Technical Institute

While leaders across the system have praised the General Assembly’s investment in North Carolina’s community colleges, most agree there is still work to be done when it comes to employee salaries.

Southeastern Community College instructor Fred Mason. Alli Lindenberg/EducationNC

Dr. David Shockley, president of Surry Community College, said the 5% increase and non-recurring bonus were very important to community college employees.

“It was needed financially, especially with the current inflation rates that are going up, but it was also needed psychologically. Our employees felt valued for the first time in years,” Shockley said. “And while I’m very grateful for that, I look forward to working with the General Assembly in the future to get North Carolina Community College System salaries into the top quartile of the nation.” 

The North Carolina Community College System is the third largest system in the country, yet their faculty salaries consistently rank in the bottom 10 states. Even with the 5% salary increase, faculty salaries will still rank in the bottom half or bottom third in the southeast region.

Dr. Dale McInnis, president of Richmond Community College, told State Board members during their November meeting that the budget was a great victory, but there is still more work to be done. 

McInnis, who chairs the legislative committee for the NCACCP, told Board members they are not taking their foot off the gas on employee salaries. 

“We are going to have a survey conducted of all colleges so that we can quantify and capture salary needs to back and support our case for additional funding to build on the success we’ve had in this budget in the next three years,” McInnis said. 

Budget stabilization

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

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

This budget provides nearly $80 million in non-recurring funds to stabilize budgets due to COVID-19 enrollment declines.

“To prevent a punitive funding reduction related to enrollment declines, which automatically  triggers a decrease in our budget, the General Assembly added budget stabilization funds of almost $80 million to allow the colleges to rebuild enrollment without penalty.”

Burr Sullivan, chair of the State Board of Community Colleges

Adult learner pilot money

The budget allocates $2 million in the first year of the biennium for programs to serve adult learners, or students who are over the age of 25.  

The funds will go towards efforts to recruit adult learners to return to higher education to gain new skills, advance in the workplace, or fulfill their goals of completing a degree or credential.

Students at Blue Ridge Community College. Mebane Rash/EducationNC

The budget bill highlights one adult learner program already underway in the state. N.C. Reconnect is a pilot initiative that launched this summer with five community colleges. The pilot recently added five more community colleges to its efforts.

EdNC reported on the adult learner initiative in September. You can read the series here.

As to why these types of programs are important, Sen. Deanna Ballard, R-Alleghany, said the only way the state is going to reach its educational attainment goal of credentialing 2 million North Carolinians by 2030 is by tapping into adult learners. 

Child Care Grant program

While working on the budget, Ballard said she asked herself about the barriers and challenges community college students face. Child care expenses were at the top of her list.

This budget allocates an additional $1.4 million for each year of the biennium in non-recurring funds to the Child Care Grant program, a program that helps community college students with child care expenses.

With the additional funding, the revised net appropriation for the program is $3 million in each year of the biennium.

Start-up funds for high-cost workforce programs

The budget allocates $5.2 million in non-recurring funding to help community colleges start new programs in high-demand career fields that require significant start-up funds.

In a previous interview, Poarch said, “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.”

The system office will establish an application process for community colleges to apply for these funds. According to the budget bill, a community college can apply for the funds to support one new program each fiscal year. Colleges are required to match a percentage of the total cash cost of the program with non-state funds.

Cybersecurity support

There have been four cyberattacks at community colleges in North Carolina since 2019. 

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

“Funding in the recently approved state budget for Regional Cybersecurity Officers across N.C. community colleges is absolutely critical in efforts to harden our collective infrastructure in preventing and responding to cyberattacks. Having access to this specialized skill set equally across the state is a hedge of protection to develop stronger policies, standards, and risk management practices as we become increasingly dependent on technology to work seamlessly on behalf of the more than 700,000 students we serve annually.” 

Dr. Pamela Senegal, president of Piedmont Community College and chair of the NCCCPA technology committee

Economic impact study

The budget 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 will partner with the system office, the North Carolina Association of Community College Presidents, and the Belk Center for Community College Leadership and Research.

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

Capital funding

This budget provides almost $495 million in state capital and infrastructure funds over the next two years. The table below shows the breakdown of funding. All funds are non-recurring.

Community College + Funded ProjectTotal for 2021-2023
Community Colleges$200 million
A-B Tech: Pratt Whitney$5 million
Alamance: Lab Equipment$3.65 million
Beaufort: Satellite Campus$2.5 million
Brunswick: Capital Improvements$15 million
Caldwell: Equipment$1.6 million
Caldwell: Health Science Building$23 million
Caldwell: Occupational Training Facility$5 million
Carteret: Culinary Program$1 million
Carteret: Training Tower$900,000
Catawba: Regional Building$15 million
Cleveland: Law Enforcement Training Center$450,000
Cleveland: Repairs and Renovations$1.5 million
Davidson-Davie: Regional Crisis Center$ 2 million
Davidson-Davie: Training Center$14.2 million
Edgecombe: Training Center$2.5 million
Fayetteville Tech: Regional Fire Training Center$20 million
Fayetteville Technical: Nursing Building$4 million
Fayetteville Technical: Regional Truck Driver Training Center$10 million
Gaston College: Cybersecurity$2 million
Gaston College: PPE$5 million
Guilford Technical: Aviation Training Center$15 million
Guilford Technical: Repairs and Renovations$1.5 million
Halifax: Manufacturing Center$1.94 million
Halifax: Repairs and Renovations$5.4 million
James Sprunt: Capital Improvements$9 million
Johnston: Capital Improvements$5 million
Lenoir: Hangar$25 million
Mayland: Foundation$4 million
McDowell Technical: Public Safety Training$1 million
Richmond: Automotive Program$1.5 million
Richmond: Truck Driver Training Project$1.5 million
Robeson: Generator$1.4 million
Robeson: Workforce Development Building$19 million
Rockingham: Driving Pad$2 million
Sampson: Truck Driver Training Project$1.5 million
South Piedmont: Aseptic Training Facility$15 million
Southeastern: STEM Building$14 million
Southwestern: Fire/Rescue Training Facility$500,000
Southwestern: Macon County Campus Facility $1.1 million
Tri-County: Cultural and Historical Engagement Center$9.75 million
Tri-County: Dental Assisting Equipment$450,000
Tri-County: Public Safety Administration Equipment$575,000
Tri-County: Truck Driver Training Equipment$700,000
Tri-County: Workforce Education Center$8.7 million
Western Piedmont: Regional Emergency Services Training Center$15 million
Table by Emily Thomas/EducationNC

Other highlights of the community college budget

  • $12 million in non-recurring funds to temporarily expand apprenticeship opportunities for 16-25 year olds in high demand fields located in Tier 1 and Tier 2 counties.
  • $6 million in the first year of the biennium to expand outreach and student advising capacity to support the Longleaf Commitment grant program.
  • $15 million in non-recurring funds to increase broadband access at 25 rural community colleges.
  • Surry Community College will receive close to $580,000 in recurring funds to operate the Yadkin County Multi-Campus Center.
  • $250,000 in the first year of the biennium for the RISE Up program. The program will roll out to all Cooperative Innovative High Schools and teach foundational skills in customer service, sales, inventory management, profitability, supply chain, warehousing, and logistics. 

Other non-community college items include $1.8 million in non-recurring funding for a study to move the UNC System Office to the downtown government complex in Raleigh, and almost $11.4 million non-recurring for the planning and design of the new UNC System Office. These are first steps in a possible merger of the UNC System with the state community college system.

The budget has $97 million in non-recurring funds for the UNC System for a public/private partnership called project Kitty Hawk. This is “for digital learning courses with the goal of generating postsecondary learning and career advancement opportunities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.” NC State University’s Institute for Emerging Issues recently released this podcast episode about project Kitty Hawk. The episode explores the new strategy that the UNC System is launching to reach adults. And this Inside Higher Ed article explores the plan behind project Kitty Hawk.

The budget includes $11.5 million in recurring funds to add Fayetteville State University to the NC Promise program. The program reduces costs at certain state universities to $500. The other universities in the program are Western Carolina University, the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, and Elizabeth City State University.

Emily Thomas

Emily Thomas is a policy analyst for EducationNC.