Tomorrow's editorial tonight:
UNC system President Tom Ross nailed it when he met with the Observer’s editorial board this fall:
“We have to continue to be the university of the people,” he said. “If we don’t, we won’t be economically competitive as a state.”
That’s why potentially huge hikes in tuition at UNC’s 17 campuses around the state are so troubling. Think soaring tuition bills are something only students need to worry about? Think again.
It is the people’s university, not just the students’. North Carolina became the great state that it is in the 20th century – separating itself from some poorer Southern neighbors – thanks in large part to the University of North Carolina system. Its low tuition and far-reaching geographic sweep provided college educations to millions of the state’s young adults. Most of those students stayed in North Carolina, working, starting businesses, raising families and paying taxes.
Many thousands of those North Carolinians would have been denied that education had tuition not been so affordable.
Now, that’s at risk. UNC officials have told individual campuses they can consider unlimited tuition and fee hikes, beyond the 6.5 percent limit they have been held to for years. UNC Chapel Hill trustees will consider a multi-year increase of up to $2,800, or 40 percent. At UNC Charlotte, trustees are still determining what the number will be, but it could well be higher than the historical 6.5 percent maximum.
It’s all being driven by legislative budget cuts. The Republican-controlled legislature cut $414 million from the UNC system this year, taking the total cut in the last five years to over $1 billion. The system did a good job of protecting students from the budget-cutting pain for the first several years. That changed with this latest blow, Ross told the Observer editorial board. Campuses have had to cut class offerings, increase class size and force some students to delay graduation because required courses were full.
The state is shifting the costs of the university system from the entire state to the students. In 1990, the state paid 81 percent of the cost of educating undergraduates. Before this summer’s budget cuts, it was 64 percent, and dropping fast.
The higher tuition will be a minor annoyance for some families. For others, it will mean the difference between attending a UNC campus and not. As tuition shoots up, financial aid will have a hard time keeping pace.
We sympathize with campus chancellors and trustees. They’ve lost millions of dollars, and they turn to higher tuition and fees as a lifeboat. But as they do so, they should think about the ramifications on real students, and on the state’s future. And the legislature should get its priorities straight and abide by the state Constitution’s mandate that higher education be provided to students at the lowest cost possible.
Friday, November 4, 2011
Tomorrow's editorial tonight: