Chapel Hill, N.C. — Longtime University of North Carolina President Bill Friday said Wednesday that he would prefer that the system's 16 university campuses make the needed cuts to staff and programs to avoid the hefty tuition increases they have proposed.
Friday is backing an effort by at least 20 former members of the system's Board of Governors to urge the current board to reject tuition increases requested by every campus for the coming year.
The group signed a three-page statement that was sent to the board before it meets Thursday in Chapel Hill. The board is expected to begin reviewing tuition proposals but isn't expected to vote on any until February, at the earliest.
University officials say they need the added tuition revenue to make up for deep cuts in state funding in recent years, which have forced them to cut staff and programs.
UNC-Chapel Hill has proposed raising tuition by 40 percent over the next five years, while North Carolina State University wants to increase tuition by 9 percent next year and more in subsequent years. East Carolina University, North Carolina Central University and other campuses are also seeking increases in excess of a 6.5 percent cap put in place several years ago.
Because state lawmakers didn't adequately fund higher education, Friday said, it's up to university administrators to make tough decisions. He suggested cutting course offerings and increasing class sizes.
"That's not the best thing, but it's the choice that has to be made, and you make it because you don't have any other way of doing it," he said.
Large tuition increases shouldn't be considered, he said, noting UNC campuses requested an increase only once during his 30 years as president. Lawmakers imposed increases in other years, he said.
"It can be done. We did it," Friday said of making do without raising tuition.
The North Carolina constitution mandates that university tuition be kept as low as possible for in-state students, and Friday said the proposed tuition increases disregard that.
"The constitution is quite explicit," he said. "Keeping these institutions strong and vital and open is the future of North Carolina."
Students had mixed feelings on trading lower tuition payments for larger classes.
"Personally, I learn better in a small classroom environment, so that's what I prefer," said Maria Lopez, a freshman at N.C. State.
"I've been in some large classes, some small classes, and they both worked out fine for me. So, for me, that would be fine," N.C. State freshman Currey Nobles said.