State News

NC public universities eye tuition increases after one-year hiatus

Posted January 15, 2015 12:52 p.m. EST
Updated January 15, 2015 6:17 p.m. EST

— North Carolina public universities want to raise annual tuition and fees by an average of 4 percent next year and 3.5 percent the following year for undergraduate state residents.

The governing board of the 16-campus University of North Carolina system on Thursday began discussing proposals by each school to raise the two basic costs of attendance. The UNC Board of Governors is expected to approve any increases next month.

"Unfortunately, costs go up, and we have stretched and stretched and stretched our campuses with cuts and cuts and cuts. So, unfortunately, the only way to go back and get it is through tuition," board member Harry Leo Smith Jr. said. "We're doing everything we can to contain costs."

The proposals come after the Board of Governors last year approved no tuition increase for the 2014-15 academic year. The one-year freeze came after UNC campuses had increased average tuition by 55 percent since 2007-08, before the national recession forced sharper cuts in taxpayer funding of the universities.

"Tuition is going to have to go up some just about every year," board member Scott Lampe said.

America's 700 public, four-year institutions raised tuition by 4 percent in 2013-14, to about $7,800 for in-state students, and by 3 percent, to about $17,500 for out-of-state students, according to U.S. Education Department data.

North Carolina's constitution requires that university education for state residents be as cheap as possible. The UNC system compares each campus' costs with similar schools around the country. Each North Carolina campus is among the cheapest, a report said.

The statewide average pales in importance to "where you're going to school and how much you're paying for your kid to go and what that money is being spent for. That's the story," board member Roger Aiken said.

The cost of attending Elizabeth City State University would be the system's lowest next year, at $4,657, despite a proposed $160 increase in tuition and fees. The costliest would be the North Carolina School of the Arts, at $8,500 after a $355 increase.

The state's largest campus, North Carolina State University, could see a $273 increase in tuition and fees, or 3.4 percent, to $8,407. UNC-Chapel Hill could charge an extra $227 in tuition and fees, almost 2.8 percent more, raising costs to $8,334.

East Carolina University, UNC-Greensboro, UNC-Asheville, UNC-Pembroke and Appalachian State University are seeking 5 percent tuition increases, the limit set by the Board of Governors.

Student fees paying for campus athletics, health services, student activities and technology rose about 4 percent this year after two years of 5 percent increases.

UNC-Chapel Hill junior Kacey Williams said she's not letting the extra costs bother her.

"For where I want to go in the future, the prices I pay now, even if they do continue to increase, will be well worth it," Williams said.

The proposed cost increases don't include a new, $30-a-year campus security fee that the UNC governors are projected to approve in February. The extra fee is needed to prepare school security officers to respond to extreme events, such as a campus shooting, and respond to federal regulations requiring more detailed investigations of alleged sexual assault cases, university system and board members said.

UNC-Chapel Hill is involved in a federal investigation into claims the school mishandled and underreported sexual assault cases.

"We are absolutely committed to campus security. How we fund it is what we're trying to figure out," Smith said.

Lampe said salaries for campus police aren't competitive with municipalities, which has led to high turnover.

"We need to get our police officers competitive in the marketplace," he said.

There were 222,000 students enrolled at UNC campuses last fall, an increase of 1,847 students from the previous fall.