UNC System President Tom Ross Talks Higher Education

Oct 3, 2013

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The UNC System, made up of 17 educational institutions, has seen a reduction in funding over the last several years. Some universities are eliminating positions to try to make up the difference. And tuition hikes place a greater burden on students.  UNC System President Tom Ross  addressed the budget problems in North Carolina in a conversation with host Frank Stasio on WUNC's The State of Things.

"When I look at national trends, it is concerning that state support generally has declined in higher education," Ross said.  "North Carolina is still ahead of the curve in that regard in that we still receive more funding on a per student basis than many states and that's really important for a lot of reasons." Ross said. Avoiding tuition increases is one of the main objectives of seeking state government funding.

Some schools, like Elizabeth City State University, have requested an increase in the out-of-state student cap to help generate tuition revenue. Ross said only a few institutions bump against the cap but the Board is considering requests for some of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the state.

One effect of the funding shortage is the loss of high quality faculty to out-of-state institutions.  Ross identified retention of quality faculty members as one of the most serious challenges North Carolina universities face today. "The competition for the best faculty is intense," Ross said. And top faculty bring research dollars to campuses. Losing faculty can mean financial losses to institutions.

"In a typical year, at Chapel Hill for example, if you had 100 professors that were offered a job somewhere else, we would keep about 70 percent of those," he said. "Last year we only kept 33 percent."

The state is falling behind in the competition to retain faculty, Ross said. "We've got to address this issue of compensation for our faculty much as we do for public school teachers if we're going to be successful in keeping the best."

Host Frank Stasio also talked with President Ross about student life. The legislature passed a law that allows students to retain attorneys for university proceedings. Ross, a former judge, had reservations about the new law.

“We have some concerns that it will delay the process and cost money, that it really won’t be that effective.” Serious crimes are dealt with in the justice system which provides counsel for defendants. Ross expressed concerns about the costs and timing logistics of the new policy for proceedings on campus.

The influence of money on school athletics is another hot topic in higher education. Asked about what can be done, Ross replied: “It’s a really great question that does not have an easy answer.”

One possible solution is cracking down on professional agents involvement with student athletes. Ross acknowledged the need for a balancing athletics, which he called part of the “front porch” of a school, with academic concerns.

President Ross oversees the UNC System which includes more than 220,000 students across the state.