Bill would cut tuition at five UNC schools, guarantee rates at other 11

Posted May 25, 2016

— A proposal heading to the Senate floor would set in-state tuition at five University of North Carolina campuses at $500 a semester for in-state students and would guarantee tuition for undergraduates at the other 11 UNC campuses wouldn't go up from the rate they pay as freshmen.

Sponsor Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, deleted a controversial provision from Senate Bill 873 that suggested renaming campuses such as Fayetteville State University so they carry a UNC brand.

Apodaca said the tuition provisions are designed to make college more affordable to more North Carolina families.

The five schools where tuition would be capped at $500 per semester, starting in the 2018-19 school year, are Fayetteville State, UNC-Pembroke, Elizabeth City State University, Winston-Salem State University and Western Carolina University. Out-of-state students at those campuses would pay $2,500 a semester.

Several lawmakers noted that four of the five schools – all except Western Carolina – have long traditions of serving minority students and expressed concern that lower tuition would turn them into second-class universities.

"We don't want it to look like we're getting a bargain-basement diploma," said Sen. Jane Smith, D-Robeson, whose district includes UNC-Pembroke.

Apodaca, a Western Carolina alumnus, said the five schools were chosen to accommodate students from across the state and said the lower tuition is simply a "marketing tool" to encourage more students to apply to and enroll at the schools. Some of them, such as Elizabeth City State, have battled declining enrollments in recent years, he noted.

"What we're trying to do is boost up the enrollment at these institutions and get them as near capacity as we possibly can," he said. "We think the competition for the $500 tuition will increase the caliber of student and the numbers of students who want to attend those institutions."

Several alumni from the affected schools said there are other ways to help increase enrollment without cutting tuition, which they said would hurt the schools financially and stigmatize them as a lower-quality education.

"In two to three years, we'll be back here begging for our lives," said Shonta Jackson, a Winston-Salem State alumna. "You will be destroying a tradition."

UNC President Margaret Spellings met with Apodaca, Sen. Gladys Robinson, D-Guilford, Sen. Joel Ford, D-Mecklenburg, and the chancellors of the affected institutions on Wednesday afternoon. Spellings said the plan to reduce tuition rates poses "implementation challenges" but could be accomplished if lawmakers filled the hole left by the reduction with general taxpayer support.

"Their intention is not to cut funding," she said. "My hope is we can get to a place where we in the system can be enthusiastic supporters of this legislation."

Legislative leaders are committed to providing the UNC system with money to cover the lost tuition revenue, Apodaca said, estimating the changes in the bill would cost $61 million in the first year. The changes wouldn't affect room or meal costs at any of the schools.

Robinson, a former member of the UNC Board of Governors, said she welcomes changes that have already been made to the bill.

"This opportunity for the people impacted to speak to the bill is critical," Robinson said, adding that she believes that the effort to lower tuition at a handful of UNC system schools would move forward, even if it doesn't look like the current legislation.

"I don't know what it will end up looking like," she said.

Under the bill, tuition at the remaining 11 UNC campuses would be fixed, starting this fall, at the rate a student paid as an entering freshman or transfer student for either eight or 10 semesters, depending on the length of the undergraduate degree program.

Apodaca said that provision would help families plan for the cost of college.

"We're not guaranteeing the folks going to those 11 other institutions that their costs will go down. All we're going to guarantee them is that they'll know what their cost is going to be when they enter," he said.

Sen. Tamara Barringer, R-Wake, noted that one of her children now attends Arizona State University because it provided a better cost option than any school in North Carolina.

"Colleges all over the country want our students, and I see this as a way for us to keep ... all these students that (are) such an important part of the economy of North Carolina," Barringer said.

The bill also includes a provision for UNC schools to cut their student fees by 5 percent by the 2018-19 school year and another that would create a full-ride scholarship at North Carolina Central University and North Carolina A&T State University.


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  • Bill Gibson May 26, 2016
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    Are these the same guys that were messing with teacher pay a few years ago, and now are offering "remedial budgeting for teachers" to draw them in, instead of pushing them away?

    Want to do something really radical? How about sharing "equally" the lower achieving students that are admitted to these institutions, across the board, to all institutions. Let Asheville, Carolina & State put some funds toward remedial work on more low achieving students and see if they are any more successful than the lower end institutions.

  • Charlie Watkins May 26, 2016
    user avatar

    Don't be ridiculous. How can you fund all those expensive professors and layers of administration on $500 tuition.

    An education is worth what you pay for it!

  • Matt Nickeson May 25, 2016
    user avatar

    The reality is that there is an accelerating consolidation within higher education. The declining enrollment in these schools is due to their poor performance and increased capacity at higher performing schools or more well-known schools. I doubt this proposal will do much to stem this tide or alter the trajectory of schools like Elizabeth State. While understandably sad for alumni, the shuttering of some schools is likely beneficial for the state system as a whole. As their enrollments drop and the value of their degrees are further eroded they account for an increasingly disproportionate share of capital and administrative costs.

  • William James May 25, 2016
    user avatar

    The smaller colleges already operate on such a restricted shoestring budgets they can't offer competitive salaries to attract highly qualified faculty and staff and got significant funding cuts when state funding got changed from # of enrollments to retention and graduations, so taking additional funding from tuition will certainly damage their stability. Seems like the object would be to increase the quality and market worth of degrees from these institutions, not lower it. How do they expect these colleges to attract outside talent or build high quality programs offering the lowest salaries in region? Also, even if enrollments increase, retention and graduations rates won't, and there is no incentive for them to stay, not when its so easy to transfer to a bigger name brand college if you have the grades and/or money.

  • Ryan Turner May 25, 2016
    user avatar

    "Sen. Tamara Barringer, R-Wake, noted that one of her children now attends Arizona State University because it provided a better cost option than any school in North Carolina.
    Read more at http://www.wral.com/bill-would-cut-tuition-at-five-unc-schools-guarantee-rates-at-other-11/15727579/#wioGrWpi7s7KX8fc.99"

    Say what??? ASU out of state tuition is nearly 40,000. Is your child, perhaps, not an in-state student?