RALEIGH – When the economy heads south, North Carolinians head for their community colleges – and that can create real challenges to finding funds to teach those students.
“When the economy is up, our enrollment goes down, because people have the opportunity for jobs,” Peter Hans, President of the NC Community College System, says in the accompanying video. “When the economy is down, our enrollment goes up, because people are looking for the skills they need to land a job.”
From 2007-08 to 2010-11, for example, North Carolina community colleges swelled by the equivalent of nearly 47,000 full-time students – a 23% jump.
“This creates a challenge for us, of course, because when state revenues decline during an economic downturn, that’s when we need the resources the most,” Hans says.To compound matters, community colleges receive state funds based on enrollment the previous year – so when they need more funds because the number of students spikes during a recession, they’re still receiving funds based on the previous year’s smaller student body.
“Community colleges are funded on last year’s enrollment, and the reason for that is we’re open enrollment, and it can be difficult to project what the enrollment will be in the coming year,” Hans says. “We take all comers, and we’re proud of that. But it is a challenge for us in terms of funding.”
Hans says he would like the NC General Assembly to consider establishing a reserve enrollment fund that could soften the swings in enrollment – and dollars.
“A reserve fund would enable us to meet the students’ needs when the enrollment is higher than we might have reasonably expected,” he says.
“And when enrollment is below what we might have expected, the state wouldn’t be out any additional funds, but they could hold it in reserve for those times when we need it.”