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Legislators aren't sure about hikes

Future support hinges on uncertain budget outlook

Some legislators say there is enough money in the state’s general fund to allow the UNC system a break in resident tuition increases, but others claim that the system’s Board of Governors is misguided in its assumption that the state can carry the load.

Legislators are likely to face a substantial deficit of as much as $1 billion when they convene in Raleigh on Jan. 26 to draw up the 2005-07 budget.

While the board reaffirmed its stance against systemwide and in-state tuition increases during last week’s meeting, the General Assembly has the final say on hikes. The legislature approved campus-based hikes last summer for all system schools.

The board’s decree followed Chairman Brad Wilson’s public statement against resident tuition increases, citing members’ constitutional obligation to keep public higher education affordable.

Rep. Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said he is glad to see the board take such a firm stance.

“It’s a wise approach,” he said. “I wish the BOG felt they had more support from legislators.”

The former BOG member said he thinks faculty salaries and student aid funded this year by tuition revenues could be provided for by the state next year.

“There may be some areas where spending can be adjusted.”

Moore also said that even though he doesn’t like tuition increases of any kind, the UNC system should look to nonresident students for revenue.

But another former BOG member, Sen. John Garwood, R-Wilkes, said the state does not have the money to help keep faculty salaries competitive. “I hate to say put it on the students, but somebody’s got to pay it.”

But Sen. Majority Leader Tony Rand, D-Cumberland, said that during difficult economic times, some sacrifices —including greater affordability — have to be made for quality.

The UNC-system finance department revealed last week that system schools generated $112 million in revenue from campus-based tuition increases and enrollment growth. UNC-Chapel Hill alone raked in $18.7 million in tuition revenue and growth funds.

At most schools, including UNC-CH, this revenue was put toward faculty salaries and student aid.

Rand said these two areas can be adequately funded only by revenue from tuition increases — for both resident and nonresident students.

“Right now, about the only place you’re going to get any salary enhancements is through tuition increases because the state doesn’t have much money at all to provide raises for faculty,” he said.

UNC-CH’s Tuition Task Force has outlined three tuition proposals, all of which include hikes for in-state and out-of-state students. The University’s Board of Trustees will vote Jan. 26 on a request to send to the BOG, who is slated to vote March 18 on all campus-initiated tuition increases.

The board is expected to turn down any request for in-state tuition increases, although the door has been left open for a rise in nonresident tuition.

Rep. Robert Grady, R-Onslow, said the General Assembly might take its cue from the board’s March decision. “I think it’d be great (to have no increase). The tuition increases have been driven by the universities themselves, not the legislatures.”

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