RALEIGH – We agreed last week to invest in physical capital for North Carolina’s public universities and community colleges, approving $2 billion in bonds by a 2-to-1 margin.
Now it’s time to invest in human capital as well.
When state legislators return to Raleigh next month for their session to adjust the state budget, they need to reward the folks who teach our kids – at every level.
We already know North Carolina ranks 42nd in the country for K-12 teacher pay, and 46th in per-pupil spending.1
A report this month to the UNC Board of Governors found that 11 of the state’s 16 public universities also fall below the 50th percentile for average faculty salaries compared with their peer institutions.
Faculty at flagships UNC-Chapel Hill and NC State University would need a raise of roughly 6% just to reach the 50th percentile.2
Meanwhile, 76% of faculty members who received outside offers from 2012-14 accepted those offers. Of 320 faculty across the system who left during that period, 93 took $91 million in grants with them.3
Legislators have granted university faculty just one raise in seven years. This year they received a $750 bonus, which did nothing to increase base pay.
Salary differences are only part of the story – benefit costs are higher for North Carolina university faculty as well. A UNC professor pays more than twice as much for health insurance as a colleague at the University of Virginia.4
The Board of Governors appears to be preparing to ask legislators for $58 million to provide a 2% raise for faculty.5 The data support a raise of more than 2% – especially when other institutions will no doubt continue raising pay.
Margaret Spellings, the new President of the UNC system, gets it.
“Pay is a priority for me in this budget session, period,” Spellings told the Faculty Senate at Western Carolina University last week. “If we lose that advantage, we really undermine what we do as an institution.”
Spellings said getting “some kind of decent raise” is her “top priority” in the legislative session that starts April 25.6
“Salaries have been stagnant in the UNC system for years, and faculty are beginning to make career decisions accordingly,” the Smoky Mountain News reported.
“There’s going to be massive losses of talent and major inability to draw new people like we have historically been able to do,” David McCord, chair of the WCU Faculty Senate, told the newspaper.7
Spellings made similar remarks Tuesday at UNC-Chapel Hill.
“We need to invest in and cherish these institutions – our faculty, the people who are innovating and especially, of course, our students,” she said.
“Staff and faculty pay is clearly an issue that’s before us in the legislature. We’re really at a tipping point to remain competitive in this country, and we need to invest in great people.”8
Similarly, the State Board of Community Colleges is seeking a 3% raise from the legislature this year for community college employees.
Average faculty salaries at NC community colleges rank 11th among 16 Southeastern states. The NC average salary of $47,400 equals only 90% of the Southern Regional Education Board average and 81% of the national average, according to the 2015 SREB Fact Book.
The Board says an additional $24 million would help North Carolina surpass the average in South Carolina and catch up with Tennessee.9
But North Carolina doesn’t compete just with neighboring states. We are engaged in a global competition for talent.
So yes, we need to reward the folks who teach our kids – at every level.
3 “Faculty Retention Efforts, July 2012-June 2014,” UNC General Administration.
5 http://www.northcarolina.edu/apps/bog/index.php?mode=browse_premeeting&mid=5630&code=bog, Committee on Budget and Finance, Item 2.