The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Monday January 24th

Survey: N.C. Residents Misjudge College Costs

The study found that North Carolinians estimate total the cost of attendace at the state's public universities at $17,604, almost $8,000 more than the actual statewide average cost of $9,777.

Public misconceptions about tuition at the state's public universities are even more drastic. Respondents estimated tuition at $9,506 per year -- seven times the actual 2001-02 average of $1,366.

Tim McDonough, director of the Office of Public Affairs at the American Council on Education, said the study tried to investigate the impact the national recession has had on the public's perception of public universities.

"We were concerned with how the recession was affecting public institutions across the country," he said. "Some states in terms of economies are concerned with tuition increases as a result of cutbacks in state budgets."

McDonough added that he is especially concerned with public misconceptions about pricing because it might make low-income families less likely to consider college. "It's a troubling find because, for potential first-generation college students, many may pass on college because they've heard college is too expensive," he said.

Jerome Lucido, director of admissions at UNC-Chapel Hill, said he thinks the survey results add a new element to the tuition debate but does not particularly help either side. "We have more than a tuition problem," Lucido said. "We have a perceptual problem."

Shirley Ort, director of the Office of Scholarships and Student Aid at UNC-CH, said this perceptional problem can be partly blamed on the media. "The tendency of the media is to focus on the rising price of college and the most expensive schools," she said.

The survey results also demonstrate strong civic support for the public universities in North Carolina.

Eighty-seven percent of respondents think the UNC system offers a good value. A majority thinks public universities are beneficial to the state. Most also believe the UNC system is affordable.

The survey shows that one in 100 respondents estimate the cost of college to be more than $100,000 per year, throwing off the overall average estimate.

McDonough said he hopes to correct the information discrepancies by promoting college affordability awareness nationwide. "We've long supported the idea that the Department of Education should be given money for an education campaign on the affordability of college and the availability of aid," he said.

Ort also said educating the public is the best solution. She said more funding for consistent financial aid would be the most beneficial way to eliminate misinformation about college affordability.

"(Financial aid awareness) has been a problem for a long time," she said. "We need to have programs with a level of predictability so people will always know the program will be there."

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

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