In order to meet regional and state workforce needs, WCU must provide efficient pathways for students to attain degrees in high demand areas such as science, technology, engineering, math, and healthcare. Since the 2008-09 academic year, WCU has witnessed dramatic growth in STEM and Health Sciences programs, which has placed tremendous pressure on gateway Chemistry, Biology, and Physics courses. The current Natural Science Building (NSB) was built in the 1970’s when WCU was home to just 6,100 total students, of whom only 15 were Nursing majors and none were Engineering majors. By comparison, WCU today enrolls almost 10,400 students, of whom roughly 2,300 are majoring in health and human science programs, almost 600 in technology and engineering programs, and approximately 500 in biological and physical science programs.
The current NSB no longer provides adequate laboratory space for instruction and research. Further, NSB lacks the flexibility, technology, and collaboration space required for 21st century teaching. Most gateway Chemistry and Biology laboratory classes are housed in the NSB and all gateway Physics courses are taught there. WCU cannot absorb the anticipated continuing growth in STEM and Health programs with this aging, out-of-date infrastructure. Total cost for a new building is approximately $120M which includes demolition of the old NSB, design and construction of the new NSB, equipment, and the inclusion of a steam micro-plant to carry capacity for up to four University buildings, thus taking capacity load off of our aging steam plant.
University facilities are valuable state assets and critical to our educational mission and vital role in regional economic development. Unless WCU is provided adequate resources for minimum facilities maintenance, taxpayer investment and public safety are at risk. Nearly $40 million in critical repair and renovation is needed at WCU alone. The total repair and renovation price tag for critical and not-yet-critical needs is closer to $200 million. Just a few of the areas in dire need of repair are campus-wide roof replacements, exterior wall repairs, renovation of current Steam Plant, steam line replacements, sewer infrastructure improvements and fire safety needs. Since 2010, however, WCU has received less than $3.5 million in repair and renovation funds from the state for basic infrastructure repair and renovation, such as roof replacements and sewer repairs.
WCU’s mission is to provide students with the education they expect and deserve. In order to fulfill that mission, the University must have funds to recruit and retain high quality faculty and staff. Since 2007, the average employee pay raise has been 0.65%. WCU averages at or below 12th across almost all occupational areas in the UNC system. We have lost employees to private corporations and to other public and private universities. In the last session of the NC General Assembly, staff who are Subject to the state Personnel Act (SPA) received a $1,000 raise, but the University was not given the flexibility to provide any additional merit raises. For University employees Exempt from the Personnel Act (i.e., all faculty and professional staff), WCU received only $160,431 to be divided among roughly 700 faculty and staff.
In the last session of the General Assembly, the ability for chancellors to carry forward state funds to address approved projects up to $1 million was reduced to $300,000. The tangible result of this legislative change is that campus flexibility to address critical maintenance and optimization needs is significantly compromised. Minimal state funding for repair and renovation (R&R) and limits on the ability to carry-forward state funds from one fiscal year to the next severely constrains campus flexibility in funding critical maintenance projects or projects that would allow the University to optimize educational and support space. For example, renovation of campus buildings to provide larger seating capacity classrooms often exceeds available state funding for R&R and project length can extend beyond the fiscal year. These limitations often result in the delay or deferral of these types of optimization projects, which further hinders our ability to accommodate growth and to meet the work force demands of business and industry.
Student attendance in summer classes promotes retention and reduces time to degree. As a result, investment in, and expansion of, summer programming has a high return on investment for students and their parents. Currently, summer school and continuing education activities receive no underwriting from the state and are required to be 100% self-supporting. Despite receiving no state appropriations, however, summer school and continuing education programming are required to be budgeted and managed within the state budget process, crossing fiscal years, which limits our flexibility to strategically use funds generated from these activities to expand and improve programming for students. The purposes and activities of summer school and continuing education would be more efficiently and effectively managed in a non-state fund. The ability to transfer summer school and continuing education funds to non-state budgets would allow strategic and long-term planning for these 100% receipt-supported activities to maximize return on investment for the benefit of our students.