By Sarah Nagem
The University of North Carolina at Pembroke is set to get $25 million from the state for much-needed campus upgrades and repairs, a drastic jump considering the school has received as little as $100,000 in past years.
Under the newly passed state budget, the school also got the go-ahead to start work on a $91 million health sciences and technology expansion, a big part of the university’s focus on educating future health care professionals in southeastern North Carolina.
“The unprecedented level of support for our university in this budget speaks volumes about the trust and confidence our state’s leaders have placed in our faculty, staff, administrators and students to positively impact our region and our state,” UNC Pembroke Chancellor Robin Cummings Gary said in a statement.
Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper signed the state budget into law this week after reaching a compromise with Republican leaders in the General Assembly.
In an interview with the Border Belt Independent over the summer, Cummings expressed frustration that the state – including the University of North Carolina System – was still operating under the 2018 budget.
“You talk about trying to stretch a nickel and make it a dime,” Cummings said. “I think we’ve done a good job of that.”
In recent years, UNC Pembroke has received between $100,000 and $1.5 million for campus repairs, Cummings said in his message this week. The nearly $25 million, which Cummings called “transformative for our university,” is earmarked for specific projects ranging from major renovations to new ceiling paint.
The most expensive project is the renovation of the business administration building, with a $12.5 million price tag.
UNC Pembroke is a major educational and cultural hub in southeastern North Carolina, with a record-high enrollment of more than 8,000 students. Cummings said the new state funding is way overdue.
“Our campus has navigated a global pandemic and a 34% increase in enrollment over the last four years without significant increases in state appropriations,” Cummings said in his message. “It is well past time for us to collectively breathe a sigh of relief that key investments in our infrastructure can now move forward.”
Robeson County, home to UNC Pembroke, ranks among the worst in the state for residents’ health. Cummings, a retired surgeon, has said he wants the university to produce more nurses, physician assistants and other health care workers who will stay in the area for work.
The university already has a health sciences program, but Cummings said the state investment will help UNC Pembroke become an “engine of change and innovation.”
“Our STEM programs are growing at the undergrad level, so we need more laboratory space,” Cummings said in an interview Friday, referring to the study of science, technology, engineering and math.
A partnership between N.C. State University and UNC Pembroke has gotten more attention lately, Cummings said. As part of the curriculum, engineering students can spend three years at UNC Pembroke – which is part of the state’s Promise program in which tuition costs only $500 a semester – and then transfer to N.C. State University for two years. At the end, they can graduate with two degrees.
Cummings said the health sciences money is “the largest investment in the future of this university.”
“It’s a large investment in Robeson County and in southeastern North Carolina,” he said.
The state budget also includes a 5% increase over two years for UNC System employees. UNC Pembroke workers could see a 2.5% raise as early as December or January, Cummings said.
It also includes a $1,000 bonus for all state employees and an additional $500 bonus for some state workers, including those who make less than $75,000.
“This budget brings a great deal of welcomed news,” Cummings said, “beginning with the increased compensation for faculty and staff.”