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The Daily Tar Heel

Study: Tuition Linked to State Appropriations

A study has indicated that tuition increases at public institutions are more related to the economy than hikes at private colleges.

The study, titled "Study of College Costs and Prices, 1988-89 to 1998-99" compares universities' costs and revenues to tuition rates. According to the study, in-state undergraduate tuition and fees increased annually by an average of 4.1 percent at public research institutions, like UNC-Chapel Hill, during the 10-year period. The study links the rising average tuition rate at public institutions to an average annual 1 percent decrease in state appropriations during the same 10 year period.

Alisa Cunningham, director of research at the National Center for Education Statistics, co-wrote the report and said state appropriations are crucial for public universities because they allow them to be extraordinarily affordable. "When you go to a public university, the price that you're paying doesn't even come close to the cost of educating a student," she said.

Tuition and fees increased by an average of 3.6 percent at private research universities like Duke University.

But unlike those at public institutions, the study indicates that tuition fluctuations at private universities correspond most directly to fluctuations in institutional aid and faculty salaries.

Cunningham said the study demonstrates that public and private institutions' tuition increases are caused by different types of needs even though both types of institutions have raised tuition.

Cunningham emphasized that the findings relating to public universities are especially important because almost 80 percent of undergraduate students nationwide attend public institutions. "The public needs to understand that tuition increases have to do with more than just (private institution concerns)," she said. "They also have to do with the economy."

UNC-CH Provost Robert Shelton said the University maintains low tuition levels because of generous appropriations from the N.C. General Assembly. "We've kept (tuition) artificially low for so many years," he said. "We have traditionally had very generous state legislators, and it's easy to forget that it's the taxpayers that have been giving us this money."

The UNC system is constantly ranked as one of the lowest-priced top public university systems in the country.

Shelton also said he agreed with the study's findings, adding that the amount of appropriations given to competing schools helps dictate the need for more funding.

"Certainly, the need for campus tuition raises was generated very much in response to the state's funds increasing at a lower rate than those given to competing institutions," Shelton said.

He added that both educational and financial considerations play a part in UNC-CH Board of Trustees' decisions about tuition increases. The board voted in January to increase tuition by $400 to fund faculty salary increases.

But Sen. Howard Lee, D-Orange, said other factors have contributed to the need for tuition increases, including inflation and the need to generate additional funds for faculty salaries and enrollment growth. "When we do the budget, we don't factor in increasing enrollment, and that makes the appropriations seem smaller," he said.

Lee also said the report's findings are accurate but do not indicate negligence by state legislators. "I think that the state appropriations have been diminishing, but not because of any lack of commitment by the state," he said. "They've done much to keep tuition down."

The State & National Editor can be reached at stntdesk@unc.edu.

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