Education leaders meet to discuss keeping college affordable, accessible

Posted May 17, 2011 5:41 p.m. EDT

— Legislators, business leaders and high-ranking officials from some of North Carolina's leading universities met Tuesday to talk about the importance of education for the states' workforce and finding ways to ensure the college dream is accessible to all.

The group's stated goal is to see 55 percent of Americans with post-secondary degrees by 2025. Currently, 36 percent of 25-to 34-year-olds in North Carolina have an associate's degree or higher.

Gaston Caperton, president and CEO of The College Board, and Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton hosted the event. 

“Ensuring that every student has the opportunity to earn a college degree, regardless of socioeconomic status, is one of our nation’s most important goals,” Caperton said.

Tom Ross, president of the UNC System, noted that the system has seen state funding reduced by $620 million over the past four years. He worries that more budget cuts will force the universities to charge more in tuition, provide less in financial aid and limit the number of students they can enroll.

About 60 percent of the students in the UNC System get some kind of financial aid.

"If we go that way, the principles of affordability and accountability of higher education in the state will fade into the sunset," Ross said. 

North Carolina simply cannot afford to close the door to a University of North Carolina education for qualified students," he said.