Raleigh, N.C. — African-American lawmakers joined with the state NAACP and student organizers Tuesday to speak out against Senate Bill 873.
The proposal, titled the "Access to Affordable College Education Act," would slash tuition to $500 per semester for in-state students at five campuses in the University of North Carolina system: Fayetteville State University, Elizabeth City State University, Winston-Salem State University, Western Carolina University and UNC-Pembroke. Out-of-state students would pay $2,500 a semester.
The first three are historically black colleges and universities, and the last was created to serve Native Americans in eastern North Carolina.
Sponsor Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, said those five campuses struggle every year to enroll enough students. The change, he said, would help them draw in more students while providing a more affordable college education to lower-income students.
Apodaca said the state would provide additional funding – about $61 million in the first year – to make up for the tuition dollars those schools would lose.
Student NAACP organizer Tyler Swanson questioned that pledge at Tuesday's news conference.
"What happens to the other years when you guys make the budget and there's no room for this?" Swanson asked. "What's going to happen to our institutions?"
North Carolina A&T State University political science student Delaney Vandergrift said HBCU students will organize to fight the proposal.
"Considering that the General Assembly and the Board of Governors are not representative of HBCUs, I understand that you all may not see the value in our institutions. But we do," she said. "Students, alumni, the entire country knows that HBCUs hold value."
NAACP President Rev. William Barber said HBCUs, which are open to students of any race, serve proportionally more low-income and first-generation students than other schools. He accused lawmakers of wanting to do away with the schools altogether.
"You cannot claim this bill is about affordability when it actually underdevelops and drains money from historically black colleges and universities and minority universities, which have already been underfunded for years," Barber said.
"This bill attacks people of color directly. The goal is clear: disperse these centers of cultural, intellectual and political power, and disrupt the mission of HBCUs by bankrupting them," Barber continued.
The legislation has already passed the Senate's education and budget committees, but it was re-referred by Apodaca to his own Rules Committee after university leaders voiced concerns about the bill.