Chapel Hill, N.C. — Students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill angrily protested Wednesday as officials started in motion a plan to raise in-state tuition by 40 percent over the next five years.
As a committee of the Board of Trustees approved an increase recommended by a special tuition task force, students started shouting down the move. At one point, they referred to the trustees as "mostly wealthy white people."
Students with the "Strike the Hikes" coalition gathered at the Pit outside of the student union and marched to the committee meeting at the Carolina Inn, where they delivered postcards signed by 1,000 students in opposition to the tuition increase.
"We don’t want to see Carolina become something like Duke (University)," student Steve Milder told the committee after presenting the postcards. "They are doing great with that in Durham, but we are something different here.”
Under the plan that the full Board of Trustees are expected to vote on Thursday, tuition for in-state undergraduates would go up by $800 in 2012-13 and at least $583 a year over the following four years.
The UNC Board of Governors implemented a 6.5 percent cap on tuition increases across the university system several years ago, but the cap allowed campuses to impose a one-time increase beyond the cap to "catch up" to tuition levels at competing schools nationwide.
The proposed tuition for next year includes a 6.5 percent increase, plus $467 of the $2,800 that officials say will put UNC-Chapel Hill in line with other universities.
Cuts to state funding have trimmed UNC-Chapel Hill's budget by $231 million in recent years, Vice Chancellor of Finance and Administration Richard Mann said. Hundreds of staff positions have been eliminated, and faculty and staff have gone three years without a salary increase, he said.
"The university is really in a very stressful situation," Mann told trustees.
Provost Bruce Carney said those cuts have started eroding the quality of education at the university, noting fewer courses are being offered and classes are larger. Raising tuition will allow the university to reverse those issues and help retain its best professors, he said.
"I hope in the near future (that) the state will step up," Carney said. "I don’t see it being this year or next."
Students for a Democratic Society organized the protest coalition, saying the university should dip into its $2.2 billion endowment before forcing students to make up for state budget cuts. They say they are graduating with too much debt or are being forced to stop their education altogether because of rising costs.
"These tuition hikes are only going to make that number of students locked out go up," senior Lauren Hollowell said. "It’s not fair. It shouldn’t happen. Education is a right that we are all entitled to.”
UNC officials said they cannot tap the endowment because much of that money was donated for specific uses, such as $761 million for scholarships and other financial aid. They also noted that 45 percent of the tuition increase will be set aside for need-based financial aid.
”If it’s expensive to pay tuition, I want people to keep in mind, too, (that) it’s also expensive to spend another semester here to try and finish your degree,” Carney told the students.
Any tuition increase would need to be approved by the Board of Trustees, the UNC Board of Governors and state lawmakers before taking effect.