Fewer college students to receive NC financial aid

Posted July 6, 2011 6:14 p.m. EDT

— An estimated 6,000 qualified North Carolina college students won't be getting the financial assistance they might have gotten last year as a result of the state's $19.7 billion spending plan.

Steve Brooks, executive director of the North Carolina Education Assistance Authority, which administers tuition assistance to students, said Wednesday that lawmakers reduced need-based financial aid for the University of North Carolina System by 9 percent for 2011-12.

Tuition assistance funding last year was a combination of recurring money and a one-time allocation of $35 million. Lawmakers kept all of the recurring funds in the 2012 fiscal budget but dropped the one-time amount.

About $200 million is still available for need-based grants for approximately 60,000 students, Brooks said.

"The bottom line is that some students are going to get less financial aid than they got in the past, even though their costs are going to go up."

In February, the UNC Board of Governors approved in-state tuition increases on the system's 13 campuses, including a maximum tuition increase of 6.5 percent at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, East Carolina University and Fayetteville State.

"The General Assembly did work hard to protect students," Brooks said. "Unfortunately, because of some quirks in the way it was funded in the past, they were not able to hold the line completely for the UNC students."

North Carolina's private colleges will also see about a 12 percent cut in need-based assistance. Community colleges are not affected.

A rising sophomore studying chemical engineering at North Carolina State University, Liana Lewis, comes from a big family and says her parents could not afford her tuition without financial aid.

"It's kind of scary," she said. "I know I would probably not be able to take as many classes. I'd probably have to be a part-time student."

Situations like Lewis' could put more demand on community colleges, where tuition is less, Brooks said. It could also require students to take out additional loans or look for other grants and scholarships.

Lewis said she is considering other alternatives.

"I will just have to stay more focused and maybe get a job," she said.

But, she said, she hopes she can avoid adding that to her already-hectic schedule, but will do what it takes to stay in school.