Orange County

Budget deal signals expansion possibilities for UNC-CH medical and business schools

Undergraduates at the Kenan-Flagler Business School at UNC could be asked to pay an extra fee.
Undergraduates at the Kenan-Flagler Business School at UNC could be asked to pay an extra fee.

Now in likely its final shape, the state’s fiscal 2017-18 budget has some good news for UNC-Chapel Hill officials who’d like to expand the School of Medicine’s annual crop of trainees – and in a surprising twist, an allocation that could set the stage for the Kenan-Flagler School of Business to do likewise.

The draft that emerged Monday night from a House-Senate conference sets $1 million to increase the number of student slots in the med school’s MD program, and says the allocation should continue in fiscal 2018-19.

That’s far from the $10 million the UNC system had requested to begin ramping up the production of new physicians at Chapel Hill and at East Carolina University. But it’s $1 million more than Gov. Roy Cooper had asked for the purpose, and in assigning the money to UNC-CH, departed from the N.C. House’s preference for adding more slots at ECU.

Conferees also agreed to raise the budget for the School of Medicine’s satellite program at UNC-Asheville and to put in $30 million to subsidize residency assignments for newly minted MDs in hospitals and medical practices around the state.

Meanwhile, a line item deep in the budget bill set aside $1 million for a “new business school building” at UNC-Chapel Hill.

The proposal hadn’t figured in any earlier draft of the budget, but UNC-CH officials quickly confirmed that the item wasn’t a misprint.

“To increase enrollment, the business school would need a new facility,” said Joanne Peters Denny, the university’s chief spokeswoman. “These funds are for the very initial stages to explore plans.”

Dave Stevens, Kenan-Flagler’s senior associate dean for finance and operations, elaborated.

Though it opened in 1997 and is to all appearances a state-of-the-art facility, the school’s South Campus home in the McColl Building is “full to capacity” because “the growth of our degree programs has outpaced the structure,” he said.

The construction of a new building thus “is a critical part of achieving our goal of increasing the undergraduate business program by 50 percent so we can meet the high demand by talented students for a business education at Carolina,” Stevens said.

The mention of expanding the undergraduate program alluded to an issue that last fall sparked divisions between student leaders and Kenan-Flagler officials.

At the time, Kenan-Flagler dean Doug Shackelford was pushing a plan he said could support a 20 to 25 percent increase in the school’s undergraduate ranks. He was counting on a $2,000-a-head fee on undergraduate business majors to help finance it, but couldn’t get support from a student-government committee. Without the student endorsement, campus officials opted against trying to push the fee proposal through the system Board of Governors in the 2016-17 academic year.

Shackelford at the time conceded that Kenan-Flagler doesn’t have space to add classes, but he argued the school could “flip our classes” by asking students to rely on online videos for the lecture component of some courses.

Nearby at the med school, dean Bill Roper is hoping to phase in an increase in the size of the annual MD class, which now takes in 180 students each summer. He wants to raise that to 230, but says that will ultimately take $10 million more a year in state funding. The school’s in the midst of planning the construction of a new medical-education building that last year’s statewide bond issue will pay for.

East Carolina has parallel med-school expansion plans, but Chancellor Cecil Staton and his staff have conceded they need a new medical education building first. The N.C. House’s draft budget would’ve given them $2.3 million in planning money for that, but the compromise budget left the Greenville institution out in the cold.

Med-school leaders at both schools agreed having residency slots is critical if North Carolina’s to retain the physicians who get their initial training at UNC-CH and ECU.

Another university to lose out in the budget shuffle was N.C. Central University. Cooper had asked legislators to earmark $2 million to buy land for NCCU’s new business school at the corner of N.C. 55 and Lawson Street. But the request didn’t get much support from either chamber and so ended up missing from the final draft of the budget.

A relatively new program at UNC-Chapel Hill, the N.C. Policy Collaboratory, survived for another year, the conferees agreeing to keep funding it and in fact adding to the list of policy-research assignments legislators have given it. The House budget would’ve eliminated the collaboratory’s state funding.

Ray Gronberg: 919-419-6648, @rcgronberg