University City

Cuts hit home at UNCC

Last month's announcement that UNC Charlotte will lose millions in state money this year came as a blow to the university, but students, faculty and staff say it is only the latest hit in a series of budget cuts they are feeling on a personal level.

They say class sizes are increasing, as are faculty teaching loads. Students aren't guaranteed courses they need to graduate. There's no money for new academic buildings, maybe until 2015, and many students are losing financial aid.

"This year was an egregious hit for us, but it was only the latest in a series of tough years," said David Swindell, assistant professor of political science and director of public policy. "We were already stretched before the budget cuts."

UNC Charlotte lost $33.5 million in state money this year, a 16.2 percent cut that equates to a reduction of about 350 jobs. Only two other of the 17 UNC System schools - Chapel Hill and Western Carolina - lost a larger percentage of funding.

"That is more than 10 percent of what our workforce would be, and that has a huge impact on everything we do at UNC Charlotte," said Beth Hardin, vice chancellor for business affairs. "We just don't have enough people to teach."

Fewer faculty members mean fewer course offerings and more students in each section. One professor had never taught more than 43 students in a class five years ago; now his sections can top 300 students, Hardin said.

Extra-large classes bring about the problem of where to put that many students. The university has very few rooms that can hold that many students, Hardin said, and the university has received no state money to construct new classrooms.

Some departments have had to change their class schedules to use larger classrooms. More classes are taught now in the afternoons, a time when many students work and faculty members take care of other job responsibilities.

Corey Conner, 21, a rising UNC Charlotte senior, said he worries that a class he needs to graduate with a political science major may not have a professor. He's heard a graduate student may teach the class.

Professors retire or move to another school or job, and often their jobs aren't filled. Conner said courses often are listed with "TBA" instead of a professor's name, and students don't know who will teach the class.

Graduate students and adjunct instructors can be hired to teach or help out in courses when faculty have reached their contractual teaching limit. UNC Charlotte Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Joan Lorden said in a statement that the school is working hard to mitigate any negative effects on student learning, including hosting programs to help faculty teach large classes effectively.

"There is no question, however, that the faculty will be stretched thin," she said. "We have lost faculty to jobs in other states at salaries that we are unable to match, because of the freezes that we are working under."

UNC Charlotte's Ph.D. programs, an important part of the university's growing reputation as an urban research university, also are suffering from lack of money.

Swindell said that last year the political science department brought in 15 new Ph.D. students, and this year they will bring in three.

"Funding has been eviscerated," Swindell said. "It's just impossible for us to manage to keep our numbers where they were."

Financial aid

The phone rings frequently in the UNC Charlotte student aid office with students calling with questions about their financial aid.

A combination of federal and state cuts in need-based grant programs will result in a loss of about $9 million in aid for UNC Charlotte students this year, said Tony Carter, director of the UNC Charlotte office of student financial aid.

That means the need-based grant funding, which had been increasing annually, will drop about 18 percent this year. Students who previously received grants may not be eligible any more, and other students will receive less money than they have previous years.

Carter said it's too early to predict what students will do in response. "I would dare say that we will have some students who will try to make up the (lost) money in grant aid with loans," he said.

"Some will spend less time on academics and more time working to make ends meet."

Conner, who is from Harrisburg, said a primary reason he chose to attend UNC Charlotte over an out-of-state school was the financial aid he received. Now, he'll take out loans to make up any money he loses in grants.

"When you sign up to go to a state school, you expect tuition will stay low and assistance will be available," Conner said.

Bright spots

UNC Charlotte administrators point out that the news is not all dour.

The school is budgeted to receive $7 million in enrollment growth funding as well as $2.3 million to open and operate its Center City Building, a new 12-story building in uptown Charlotte that will house the university's MBA and other graduate-level programs.

Another $2 million was allotted for the new Energy Production and Infrastructure Center, a new building for the UNC Charlotte College of Engineering's future energy-related programs in electrical, civil, computer and environmental engineering.

Lorden said that students also will find expanded study space in the library and a new electronic system called the Niner Advisor that will make it easier for students to contact their advisers and to track their progress.

Swindell, meanwhile, hopes that UNC Charlotte can hang on to the momentum it had before the budget cuts began. He praised faculty morale, comradery and drive for quality despite heavier workloads and fewer perks.

"It's so frustrating that we got hit with the recession at UNCC when we did," Swindell said.

"It was snatched away from us."