Sponsor says he will pull HBCUs controversial tuition provision
Posted June 1
Updated June 2
Raleigh, N.C. — Faced with backlash from students and alumni of historically black colleges and universities, Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, said Wednesday he would pull three HBCUs out of a controversial tuition experiment when the state Senate debates its proposed budget on Thursday.
Apodaca is the primary author of a budget provision that would have made tuition $500 per semester for in-state students at five schools in the University of North Carolina system: Elizabeth City State University, Winston-Salem State University, Fayetteville State University, UNC-Pembroke and Western Carolina University.
The proposal was designed to make college more affordable to more people and to boost enrollment at the five schools, he said, but he plans to offer an amendment to remove Elizabeth City State, Winston-Salem State and Fayetteville State from the budget provision. The other two schools would remain.
"I've never had such a hard time trying to give away $70 million," Apodaca said.
While the statute would have limited how much money the schools would collect from tuition, lawmakers said they would give the schools up to $70 million a year out of tax revenue to make up for the lost tuition revenue.
HBCU backers say they worry that taxpayer support might not be there during hard economic times, and they rallied against the tuition cut Wednesday afternoon on Halifax Mall behind the Legislative Building, saying the proposal threatens the viability of the schools.
"The historically black colleges and universities of North Carolina are risk of becoming extinct. We are in jeopardy," North Carolina Central University student Raven Cheatham said, calling the provision "a direct attack on our education, culture and future."
"All these alumni and all these HBCU students, we know. We know that that's what they're trying to do," said Delaney Vandergrift, a student at North Carolina A&T State University.
Others said a cut-rate tuition stigmatizes the schools as providing a lower-quality education.
"You get what you pay for," said Darnell Johnson, an Elizabeth City State alumnus. "If you're charging me $3,500 and charging someone else $500, you think it comes with that sort of inequality."
"There is distrust in the way the bill was rolled out," said Sen. Erica Smith-Ingram, D-Northampton. "I think it is a magnanimous gesture for leadership and the sponsors who want to do something."
Sen. Andrew Brock, R-Davie, denied that the provision targeted HBCUs, calling them "some of our best schools."
"All of them are within 110 miles of everyone in North Carolina, and by that, we can give a good place to go to everyone to go to college at a really affordable rate," said Brock, who, like Apodaca, graduated from Western Carolina.
"There's no way I'd ever put my beloved alma mater in any type of danger," Brock said. "I just found it's a great way to get students in there who probably couldn't afford to go to college otherwise."
Other portions of Apodaca's provision, including plans to ensure that students would pay the same tuition rate during their four years attending any UNC undergraduate institution, would remain in the bill.
The Senate Appropriations and Finance committees approved the chamber's budget bill Wednesday. The full Senate is scheduled to debate and vote on the plan Thursday morning and again just after midnight on Friday. After that, the House and Senate will meet to resolve their differences on the $22.225 billion spending plan.