When I first saw the email heading – “Could NC Wesleyan become a UNC school?” – I thought it was going to be a joke.
But as I read through the news item, I found out that several members of the General Assembly are quite serious about wanting to have North Carolina Wesleyan College be taken over by the University of North Carolina system. The idea is laughable, but they’re serious.
A provision was included in the Senate budget bill to study (at a cost to the taxpayers of $50,000) the feasibility of bringing this liberal arts college that is affiliated with the United Methodist Church into the big UNC congregation. Why on earth would we want to start ladling public money into a school that has managed quite well for half a century on funds raised from willing donors and students?
Senator A. B. Swindell points out that only three of the UNC campuses (East Carolina, UNC-Wilmington, and Elizabeth City State) are located in the eastern part of the state. True enough, though a lot of people would regard Fayetteville State as also being in the eastern part of the state. The obvious question is, “Why does that matter?” If UNC were to take over NC Wesleyan, all that would do would be to slap a different label on the school. How would that change anything for people living in eastern North Carolina who desire a college education?
NC Wesleyan’s president, Dr. Ian Newbould, seems to like the idea. He is quoted in the Rocky Mount Telegram as saying, “There’s a tremendous need at educational facilities” because of the growth of the college-age population in North Carolina. Assuming that he’s right and the demand for college coursework is in fact increasing, why can’t schools like NC Wesleyan and other independent institutions expand to meet it? The school has quite a bit of land (some 200 acres) and nothing prevents it from raising the capital to grow in capacity.
One of the great features of private enterprise (and this is true even if it’s non-profit) is that people tend to be far more careful with their own money than with money taken from taxpayers. If the demand for cell phones seems to be increasing, the companies that make them are apt to consider expanding, but before they do so, they’re apt to make very sure that the increase is real, long-term, and that they have devised the most efficient plan to meet it. And if it turns out that they’re mistaken, only the money that has been willingly invested is lost.
The question of how to expand is more important than ever in higher education with the rapid growth of online course offerings. With projections for rapid increases in the number of students who want the convenience of doing much or all of their work online, geographic location becomes less and less important.
Perhaps, though, this isn’t so much about students as it is about state money. Newbould says that “Rocky Mount is the largest city in North Carolina without a UNC campus. You can see why community leaders are behind this.” Ah yes – growth fueled by public funds.
Even though the need for any “bricks and mortar” expansion of North Carolina Wesleyan is very questionable, those community leaders know that if they can talk the right people into having UNC take over the school, it will mean a big inflow of money into Rocky Mount. Government universities usually run with higher overhead than do private colleges and once NC Wesleyan was within the system, it would be easy to make the argument that more money should be spent on it as a matter of “equity” with the other institutions.
In other words, politics is more likely to bring in money than are private, voluntary decisions. That’s exactly why private colleges should stay that way – their decisions are not influenced by politics.
Tom Betts, a trustee of NC Wesleyan envisions the takeover as helping eastern North Carolina develop economically. “East of I-95 is a Third World country,” he told the Rocky Mount Telegram. “Wesleyan and Rocky Mount are in the right spot to transform the area.”
Putting aside the ridiculous hyperbole of saying that eastern North Carolina is a “Third World country,” why should we believe that the area would be “transformed?” Go just a few miles from Chapel Hill and you will find people living in very much the same conditions as do the poor of the east. The truth is that pouring money into a state university makes few people in a very small area better off, but it doesn’t make any difference for the great majority of the people even in the county where it’s located. It certainly won’t “transform” an entire region.
This is an idea to bury deep in the wastebasket of bad legislation.