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Saturday, May 18, 2024

State budget could provide $8M more to UNCW for STEM, workforce programs

The state Senate’s budget proposal includes an $8 million increase to the university’s $190 million appropriation. (Port City Daily/Hannah Leyva)

WILMINGTON — As the General Assembly’s two chambers confer on the next biennium’s budget, part of the negotiations will be public universities’ allotments. It could mean more state funding for UNCW. 

READ MORE: UNCW looks to divide arts and sciences, faculty cautious of consequences

The Senate’s version includes an $8 million increase to the university’s $190 million appropriation, complying with the school’s request to fund more “critical workforce programs” and support its Carnegie classification as an R2 high-research activity institution. 

If passed, UNCW will use the funds to support its healthcare, nursing, education, pharmaceutical chemistry, data science, coastal engineering, marine sciences, shellfish and finfish aquaculture, cybersecurity, and intelligent systems engineering programs. 

“Additional graduates from these programs will benefit the people, economy, and employers of North Carolina,” UNCW spokesperson Krissy Vick told Port City Daily.

She added the funds would contribute directly to student success and economic development. The money will be used for applied-learning opportunities, financial assistance to in-state students, faculty recruitment and retention and interdisciplinary research and teaching. 

The university could also gain increased ability to secure funding and support from the federal government and the private sector and cover more of the costs to commercialize research projects.

It will support lab-intensive and clinical programs in STEM and healthcare.

The STEM fields are undergoing a reclassification under a new college as part of an incoming division of UNCW’s College of Arts and Sciences, essentially splitting the former from the latter come July. 

Proponents of the two colleges, including Provost Jamie Winebrake and a cohort of computer science, mathematics and statistics, data science, physics and engineering professors, argue CAS’ current structure limits the exposure and resource opportunities for each program. By providing two colleges — and two deans — for arts and sciences, it increased each college’s capacity to advocate for its programs. This may allow the university to put more attention to research, paired with funding like the $8 million request to the state, bolstering its R2 standing. 

UNCW earned the R2 designation, meaning it has high research activity, in 2018. To be considered an R2, a school must have awarded at least 20 research or scholarship doctoral degrees and had at least $5 million annually in total research expenditures.

Vick stated other UNC campuses — East Carolina, UNC Charlotte, North Carolina A&T — received very similar and significant state investments when they made the transition to research status. In this biennium’s budget, North Carolina A&T could see an increase of $10 million to support its efforts to become the first historically Black university to obtain the R1 Carnegie classification. 

“UNCW is an integral part of the economic success of southeastern NC, especially in economic clusters related to clinical research, life sciences and pharma, fintech, IT, film, logistics and supply chain, and more,” Vick wrote in an email to PCD.

During the CAS division process, some arts and social science professors expressed concern that splitting the college was an attempt to funnel more resources to STEM programs, while the arts would be left behind. 

A report put together by CAS faculty, exploring a potential split, found that R2 contributors, including terminal degrees and grant money, “should not land exclusively in one college, otherwise it will lead to resource inequality.”

UNCW Chancellor Aswani Volety, former dean of CAS, stated in the report “no unit will have fewer resources than they have now.”

UNCW’s peer R2 universities, which include UNC Charlotte, UNC Greensboro, East Carolina University, and North Carolina A&T, have a College of Arts and Sciences, but with fewer departments than UNCW. 

However, the schools also have other colleges dedicated to both science and the arts. For example, UNC Greensboro houses a College of Visual and Performing Arts and a School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering, along with its College of Arts and Sciences. UNCW’s two new colleges — yet to be named — under the current plan would still be a standout compared to peer institutions; none group all the arts and all the sciences into two colleges. 

Port City Daily reached out to Sen. Michael Lee (R-New Hanover) for comment on his involvement in the inclusion of UNCW’s request in the Senate budget. After publication, he provided the following response:

“I pushed for the funding in the Senate budget.  The Carnegie R2 classification represents research-focused universities that provide important contributions through their innovative research, quality education and community engagement.  These universities, for which UNCW is one, play a vital role in driving innovation and promoting economic growth, generating new technologies and ideas.  My goal in providing funding to UNCW at this level every year is simply to provide the resources for them to continue their pursuit of excellence in this important area.”

Lee recently received the university’s Razor Walker award — despite protests from faculty and students — for his advocacy for funding a permanent facility for Isaac Bear Early College students on UNCW’s campus.

UNCW’s increase will need to gain approval from the House and make it into the final budget, expected to be completed mid-June before the next fiscal year begins in July.


Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at brenna@localdailymedia.com.

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