Higher Education and Eastern North Carolina
The transformation of eastern North Carolina depends in large part on excellence in health services, more small businesses, and a better-trained workforce that prepares workers for tomorrow's jobs. Workforce needs certainly include better teachers, more nurses, qualified engineers, health professionals, and a broad range of individuals equipped with business and technical skills. East Carolina University has built our entire mission around these service-oriented functions for the East – it is both our mission and our soul. Unfortunately, the budget cuts that were recently recommended for the next fiscal year will do immediate damage to our academic core and lead us toward mediocrity and the inability to compete.
There is no doubt that East Carolina University, along with the entire UNC system, has done its part to address the state budget crisis. While the system accounts for 13 percent of the General Fund appropriations, it has contributed 29 percent of the budget reversions imposed across state government this fiscal year. As a result, the total cuts across all campuses totaled $300 million. At ECU, we will lose more than $90 million over three years if these cuts remain. These cuts come after dramatic and unprecedented reductions in administrative positions and, at East Carolina, millions of dollars of efficiency improvements. East Carolina cannot continue to bear a disproportionate share of the budget shortfall and at the same time maintain the academic quality of our institution. If this happens, a major economic engine for the East will be permanently damaged.
For the past two years, ECU has taken more than 90 percent of our budget cuts from "non –academic" areas to preserve the quality of our classrooms and the opportunities for our students. We have made all the service and administrative cuts we can; further losses will come directly from the academic core. Effects will include:
- The loss of 100 positions, half of them faculty;
- Larger classrooms, fewer classes, and, therefore, reduced graduation and retention rates for our students;
- We will be less competitive in key science, professional, and business programs. Excellent faculty will leave.
- We will be forced to slow or stop the growth of programs in economic development and workforce training that are vital to the East.
Further reductions in the Health Sciences can only come by reducing our faculty lines and, therefore, admitting fewer students. This will include programs where virtually all graduates go immediately to well-paying jobs in hospitals, as physical therapists, in speech communication and nursing. This occurs at a time when health-care reform requires more family doctors and better primary medical care for 32 million newly-insured Americans.
We live in a knowledge-based, technology-driven economy. A strong system of higher education is essential to compete in this global economy; fortunately, North Carolina has steadily and systematically built a university system envied across the nation. Let's work together to maintain our national leadership in this vital element of our state.