The Daily Tar Heel

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Wednesday March 22nd

State's OK to raise tuition may protect academics, salaries

When the University’s electronic tuition bills became available in late July, an additional $750 increase came as a shock to students anticipating 5.2 percent hike.

But with treacherous financial waters on the horizon, many administrators said this year’s state budget provision allowing for a supplemental increase of as much as $750 came as a lifeboat for none other than the UNC student.

Without respective tuition costs of $4,815 and $23,430 for in- and out-of-state students, officials said UNC would have resorted to 8 percent cuts to recoup deficits from last year.

And academic quality would not have been spared.

“For us to take that kind of hit, we would have had to cut programs,” said Dick Mann, vice chancellor for finance and administration, of the overall cut of about $26 million. Adding $750 to the expected 5.2 percent increase of $200 for in-state students and $927 for out-of-state students was “the only way we could make sure that the cuts to academic programs could be reimbursed,” Mann said.

Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Bruce Carney said the 24.6 percent hike for in-state students and 7.7 percent hike for out-of-state students rendered moot the traditional cap of 6.5 percent. But it has preserved course offerings and limited class sizes in a third consecutive year of salary freezes for the vast majority of employees. Only professors at risk of leaving for another university will be eligible for raises under a new fund intended to retain faculty members.

Support services, administrative functions and capital projects, however, will not be protected, as this year’s 5 percent cut compounds the crippling 10 percent budget cut last year.

And if next year’s projected $3 billion cut from the overall state budget of $19 billion takes effect, Mann said cuts could be reminiscent of the ones in 2009-10, jeopardizing UNC’s ability to function efficiently.

“At some point, we will become less able to do what we are supposed to do,” Mann said.

‘The sure thing’

With the state’s federal stimulus funds drying up this year, administrators said there is concern that the economic climate for 2011-12 could be reminiscent of 2009-10. Combined with the uncertainty surrounding the N.C. General Assembly election and ongoing UNC-system president search, Chancellor Holden Thorp said the University needed to take full advantage of the budget provision.

“We don’t know what the parameters of the tuition increase will be next year,” he said. “We did know we had a chance to get extra resources of $750 this year. So we went with the sure thing.”

Mann said next year’s cuts will particularly hinge on whether taxes are raised and the state’s unemployment rate improves. Though the state is expected to maintain its commitment to affordable education, a Republican-dominated legislature could result in some targeted budget reductions, said Dwayne Pinkney, associate provost for finance and academic planning.

“It’s conventional wisdom that the Republicans are less enthusiastic about things like debt,” said Pinkney, who previously served as UNC’s state government liaison. “It’s debt financing that pays for buildings.”

An uncertain reaction

Beyond a harshly written e-mail sent by Ryan Morgan, a 2010 UNC graduate and former president of the Out-of-State Student Association, who referred to the hike as “treacherous” and “unexpected,” Thorp said the reaction has been mild.

“We haven’t gotten blasted with negative feedback,” Thorp said.

Although Student Body President Hogan Medlin described the student body as “shocked” and “blindsided” by the last-minute increase, he said most students — including himself — have been understanding of its purpose.

But even with 38 percent of the increase allocated to need-based aid, Medlin said he is concerned that middle-class students on the threshold of receiving such aid will be forced to take out loans.

Medlin added that a lack of student input in the tuition discussion has left him frustrated.

“That was something I found to be disturbing,” he said.

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