The state budget, passed on July 14, included changes impacting the UNC system. Policy in the budget created an in-state tuition freeze for all schools in the system, creating a guaranteed amount for all four years. The budget also instituted a three percent cap on student fees.
By requiring the UNC system to re-report its expenditures, the legislature was able to use a mechanism called flexibility cuts to re-appropriate almost one billion dollars less than the UNC system previously received.
“What that means in practice is that each agency, in this case the University, gives an expense report to the state, their needs are re-evaluated and then the money is appropriated back out. It’s not a bad system when it’s done responsibly,” said N.C. Congressperson Verla Insko, D-Orange.
“The problem here is that they have gone too far — they haven’t stopped at being fiscally responsible, they’ve depleted the revenue stream while at the same time determining that the (University) system doesn’t need as much money as it’s been getting.”
Insko said another growing problem in the UNC system is that an increasing number of employees are designated as staff, rather than faculty, which makes it hard to compete for top employees with other universities. This designation also leads to benefits being diminished.
“So many of our University employees now are staff and not faculty because we don’t want to pay for them. Which means the quality of education is going to steadily decline,” Insko said. “And on top of that, there’s all this pandering concerning these great pay raises for state employees, but those raises are small and furthermore are paid out as bonuses, not as salary, meaning the corresponding benefits like retirement packages aren’t going to be there for these employees.”
Steve Farmer, vice provost for enrollment and undergraduate admissions, said it will take time for the University to implement the policy and he did not know which incoming class this policy could affect.
“When something like this happens, it takes a little while for us to sort through all the implications for this University and it takes the University system a while to sort through all the implications for all the constituencies.”
Farmer said the tuition freeze could appeal to families because of the predictability. Also, prospective students could take into account the value of the education and what kind of degree they want to achieve when looking at universities.
“We’re going to try to work very, very hard to make sure the students understand what’s involved, of course make sure that we fulfill the letter and the spirit of the law,” Farmer said.
Scott Miller, director of financial aid at the University of Virginia, said UVA has been using an optional guaranteed tuition for in-state students since March 2015.
“Our board just wanted to provide families with options,” Miller said. “I don’t think our board was ready to mandate this across the board.”
Miller said concerns have been raised about this policy because it can have a lasting impact and it can reduce flexibility if the economy enters into a recession.
“Decisions that were made four years earlier are now impacting what’s going on, that (a university is) having to deal with at that time,” Miller said.