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Gov. McCrory calls UNC Board of Governors to action

PEMBROKE Gov. Pat McCrory told the UNC Board of Governors on Thursday that the status quo is no longer acceptable in the operation and funding of education in North Carolina.

There is a need for better clarity in determining North Carolina’s “education brand,” McCrory said. To that end, the Republican governor is convening his education Cabinet – the leaders of the state’s early childhood, K-12, community college and university sectors – next week to begin to think more strategically about education.

McCrory said he has been surprised that there is not better coordination among the various sectors. Each is in its own silo, he said, seeking funding for its own priorities.

“We’re doing the budget in these silos instead of looking at the big picture,” he said at a Board of Governors meeting at UNC Pembroke.

Given the state’s fiscal reality, McCrory said, it is imperative to streamline campuses so that more money is aimed at the students rather than at overhead and administrative costs. But he echoed state Senate leader Phil Berger’s comment this week that campus closures are not on the table.

McCrory applauded the UNC system’s new five-year strategic plan, which focuses on efficiency and the production of more degree earners, while more closely aligning curriculum with market demands. There is a disconnect, he said, in the marketplace. North Carolina’s unemployment is among the highest in the nation, he said, yet employers say they can’t find qualified workers for some jobs.

“My goal is to continue to have the brand of our university system be the first rate brand in the nation and in the world,” he said. “It’s going to be crucial to our economic development, but that also means we’ve got to change some things. And that’s not change for the sake of change. It’s change just like the private sector has to do with their customers and their products every single day.”

McCrory did not echo the criticisms of liberal arts programs that he had made on a conservative radio talk show a few months ago. His previous comments ignited outrage among faculty, prompting letters, petitions and an invitation to meet with professors.

Education is for two purposes, McCrory stressed – exercising the brain and using knowledge to apply toward a career.

But he said universities must adjust enrollment to meet market needs. He cited a hypothetical example of campuses producing too many lawyers and not enough engineers.

‘There is a limit’

McCrory’s budget plan would partially fund some of the system’s strategic priorities. But to do it, he wants a 12.3 percent tuition hike for out-of-state students on high-demand campuses. And he proposed a net reduction of $139 million to the UNC system.

The student representative on the board, Cameron Carswell of Appalachian State University, said students would be hurt by the higher tuition at a time when campuses already have absorbed substantial cuts in recent years.

“There is a limit,” she said of the continuing reductions.

McCrory acknowledged that there are “very, very difficult choices.” But he pointed out that in his budget plan, he put the bulk of new education money into pre-kindergarten, which he said is an important investment that should pay long-term dividends.

Addiction and abuse

Finally, the governor had some tough talk for university leaders on the issue of drug and alcohol abuse on college campuses. He said not enough is being done to combat addiction and abuse.

McCrory said that other than reconstituting the drug courts, he doesn’t have a detailed strategy for dealing with the drug and alcohol problem.

“The sheriffs will tell you we have cartels in this state,” he said. “The cartels have gotten very smart. They’re going where the money is, and by the way there’s a lot of money on university campuses, of some students.”

The educational establishment needs to step up, he said, instead of hiding the problem.

“There is a serious addiction issue that is being swept under the rug,” McCrory said.

Stancill: 919-829-4559
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