Higher faculty salaries and more fundraising flexibility for the state’s universities are among the issues on Margaret Spellings' legislative agenda for when lawmakers return to Raleigh next week, the UNC system president said during a visit to Wilmington on Friday.
Her salary bump remarks came the same day Gov. Pat McCrory released his $22.3 billion state budget plan Friday. His recommendations included an increase for teachers as well as most other state employees.
“Competitive pay for public servants is one of the top priorities for the [UNC] Board of Governors and me as the legislature reconvenes,” Spellings said, speaking at the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce's annual meeting. “We’re going to push for new investments in technology and data science, and for greater private sector support for the university system.”
Spellings, the new president of the University of North Carolina system, spoke at Wilmington Convention Center.
She also said she would push for the legislature to remove a cap imposed last year on UNC system schools' administrative costs to fundraise. Each school has a $1 million limit on state funds they can use to raise private money. Spellings said she would like to see the limit eliminated and the policy returned to the way it was before without a restriction.
As state budget resources have tightened, schools need the ability to control their own fundraising efforts, Spellings said.
University of North Carolina Wilmington chancellor Jose Sartarelli, who also supports the change, said the amount invested to fundraise pays off for universities.
"The ratio is 10:1," he said after Spellings' speech.
Spellings requested the help of the area’s business community in advocating for and supporting the university system’s needs in the face of rising demand for education and limited budgets. She pointed out that nearly one-quarter of North Carolina’s population is under the age of 18.
Students and their parents “are worried about the future and skeptical of the value proposition of higher education and the affordability of higher education,” she said. “The good news, of course, is we are on the case.”
As more people are looking for relevant, affordable and convenient education, and realize they need to be lifelong learners, Spellings emphasized that the university system must go beyond educating just the young people who go straight from high school student to full-time college student, and whose background prepares them for the college experience.
The UNC system must provide opportunities for success for first-generation college attendees as well as for poor and minority students, she said, adding that the UNC system recognizes the current trends toward older students, students coming to higher education from the military, and students who need to complete their degrees after interruptions in their educational careers.
The system also realizes the need to address a different job market, she said, with students likely to follow multiple careers in their working lives. She cited UNCW’s new Allied Health and Human Services facility – to be built with funds from the Connect NC bond – as an example of the university’s expanding opportunities in high-demand professions.
Spellings also praised Sartarelli’s vision for UNCW, noting his leadership and background in global business as well as academia.
The president said she believes that “business is part of the solution,” and that an active and engaged business community can help higher education thrive. The role is not limited to financial support or advocacy in promoting the university system’s value proposition, she said.
“We need your advice and experience,” she said. “Host students as co-workers; be mentors. Call on our faculty for research partnerships. Take advantage of state-of-the- art facilities in your back yard. Hold us all accountable for results.
Spellings, who took the reins of the UNC system March 1, is in the process of touring all 17 campuses before the end of the academic year, with her visit to UNCW taking place this week. The chamber adjusted its schedule to accommodate her.
“We wanted her, and since she started [as president] March 1, we knew we couldn’t have our meeting in February, which is when we usually hold it,” chamber president and CEO Connie Majure-Rhett said Friday.
Editor Vicky Janowski contributed to this article.