Colin McKnight

Alongside our deep culture, beautiful environment and ever-growing business and technology scene, North Carolina public universities are the pride of the Tar Heel State. The UNC public college system has 17 prestigious institutions under its belt, with NC State being the obvious crown jewel. SmartAsset even ranked our state high on the list of states with the best overall higher education.

But recently, our distinguished higher education system has been struggling due to the state’s allocation of funds away from public colleges and universities in recent years. NC Policy Watch found current North Carolina higher education funding to be more than $7 billion lower than it was ten years ago. Before I researched this topic, I knew the situation wasn’t great, but I had no idea North Carolina public colleges and universities had been pushed this far to the wayside.

There are a variety of culprits that the education cuts can be pinned to. For starters, the North Carolina Budget and Tax Center (BTC) cites tax cuts scheduled for the new year to land a nearly billion-dollar blow to public education, health and environmental policy. BTC Director Alexandra F. Sirota cited the planned corporate tax cut as barely beneficial to anyone but distant shareholders, and she calls for a “return to an approach that prioritizes investments in people and places.”

Additionally, the behavior of certain NC General Assembly members shows that the funding needed by public education institutions, along with other public ones, is being held hostage for the sake of political power moves. While some aspects of the budget, which passed last June, increased education spending, no arguments were allowed to be presented for how the millions in cuts to supplies or these tax cuts could hurt schools. Rep. Darren Jackson found the move by lawmakers to be an unprecedented attempt to control the budget, telling the News & Observer it “will prevent input and consideration.”

It’s a problem being seen on all levels of North Carolina’s public education system. This is demonstrated by a study in Education Week which rated our public schools 38th in the nation, attributing a good portion of that score to our schools’ abysmal financing, which it rated 45th. On all levels, North Carolina is seeing a troubling fiscal drought which affects all students, regardless of age.

Unfortunately, it’s a trend that shows no sign of stopping or slowing down any time soon. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) determined that potentially all states now spend around $1,400 less per student than they did a decade ago, and have inflated tuition by an average of over $2,400 more.

At NC State and far beyond, all these tuition hikes and budget cuts are felt equally by students as they are by faculty and facilities. A higher price on higher education means that everyone takes a harder economical hit, and that up-and-coming high schoolers who deserve an NC State education might just be unable to afford it. Additionally, the CBBP also confirmed that budget cuts still impact the quality of education, no matter the spike in tuition. The mindset it takes to view these impacts as “acceptable losses” is incomprehensible.

It’s time to halt this spiraling disaster and relieve the financial pressure being felt by schools. Budgets need to better prioritize public education on all levels, and NC lawmakers need to stop silencing the opposition to their legislation on the matter; just because your proposed funding increases education spending in some aspects doesn’t mean it’s right to block amendments in others.

It’s a widespread problem that is not only incredibly frustrating, but completely baffling. As mentioned, our colleges are one of North Carolina’s strongest aspects. People from all over the nation, and far beyond, flood in so that they can choose from a wide array of public institutions from which to receive a fantastic education. Undercutting that attacks our state’s identity, culture, success and pride.