The UNC-system Board of Governors unanimously approved a one-year hiatus from tuition increases Friday, but the N.C. General Assembly might not let the decision stand given the state's precarious economic situation.
Board members kept the state's potential $2 billion revenue shortfall in mind but ultimately decided that students could not shoulder a tuition increase this year, said Addison Bell, chairman of the BOG Budget and Finance Committee, which must initiate any tuition change. "We made this decision now mainly because we had raised tuition significantly in the past," he said.
The board has raised tuition every year for the past three years. Last year's systemwide increase totaled $40 million, more than 80 percent of which was used to cover half of the $66 million needed to fully fund enrollment growth.
UNC-system President Molly Broad cautioned that the BOG should not rely repeatedly on tuition to fund campuses' growth, praising the board's decision to halt increases for at least a year. "We must acknowledge that our economy is still struggling and we must not make tuition an expected source of revenue," she said.
But some legislators expressed concern over their ability to fund enrollment growth next year if tuition is not a revenue source. "It would be quite difficult," said Senate Majority Leader Tony Rand, D-Cumberland. "The position we find ourselves in is rather powerless as far as it comes to money."
Rand indicated that the UNC system might have to meet the legislature at least halfway by providing a portion of its needed enrollment growth funds through tuition increases. He pointed to the 50-50 agreement last year as an example. "We were scraping everything we could find to do that last year," Rand said. "Looking at this year, it's going to be at least as difficult or more difficult to do even that."
Guilford County Rep. Joanne Bowie, the Republican nominee for House speaker pro tem, echoed Rand. "I'd love not to raise tuition again this year," she said. "But enrollment growth has been so big everywhere, including at community colleges, I just don't know if we're going to be able to do it."
The General Assembly has the final say on all tuition increases, and system leaders acknowledge that the board's action might be symbolic at most.
"As far as I'm concerned, this is just a nod from the Board of Governors, and we still have work to be done," said Jonathan Ducote, president of the UNC-system Association of Student Governments.