UNC System tuition hikes on the table for 2012-13

More students are at risk of "stopping out," or taking time off from their studies to work, if tuition goes up and financial aid is not more available, a student representative told the UNC Board of Governors Friday.

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GREENSBORO, N.C. — The University of North Carolina Board of Governors began discussions Friday about how much to charge for tuition in the 2012-13 school year and beyond. Although no formal decisions were made, the board and the leaders of the 16 UNC university campuses agreed they would likely have to pass on more of their costs to students. 

"If the state is not able to fund higher education the way they have in the past, we are going to look at the balance between state funding and student funding," said Randy Woodson, chancellor of North Carolina State University.

His counterpart at UNC-Chapel Hill agreed. "While tuition is a last resort for us, we are to the point where we are going to have to talk about using tuition to help Carolina maintain the quality that we've had for all these years," Chancellor Holden Thorp said.

In the past, the Board of Governors has capped tuition hikes at 6.5 percent, or about $300. In the spring, 13 campuses raised tuition by that much, while the rest saw smaller rates of increase.

This time around, Thorp said, the board could make some exceptions. Each school will be compared to peer institutions across the country when chancellors consider how much of a hike to propose.

"When we look at our peers, we already have one of the lowest faculty salaries in our group, and we have one of the lowest tuitions in our group," Woodson said.

The belt-tightening at the state level over the past couple of years has trickled down to students, Atul Bhula, the student representative, told the board on Friday.

"I'm afraid that if they do raise tuition by a certain amount, then we are going to see a lot more students dropping out," he said.

Bhula, who attends Appalachian State University and is president of the UNC Association of Student Governments, represents students on all the campuses.  

"I've had a couple of friends actually, and they've had to 'stop out' for various reasons," Bhula said. He defined the trend as students who quit school so they can work to try and save money to return and finish a degree. 

Students who "stop out" worry UNC System President Tom Ross as well. He said a portion of any tuition increase would be set aside to be funneled back to financial aid.

"There may be room for some tuition increase that would allow us to direct those dollars to the campuses to focus on faculty, staff and financial aid," he said.

Ross said the board would consider phasing in any tuition hike so that the impact on students and family budgets would be more gradual.

"We need to be sure, above all else, that we have access and affordability, but we also have excellence," Ross said.


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