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Board of Govenors to examine peer institutions' tuitions

UNC tuitions could change as result

Fluctuating tuition from UNC-CH’s peer institutions might soon have a bigger impact on the University.

The UNC-system Board of Governors will review peer institutions for schools in the UNC system in the spring, and administrators say this reevaluation might give more leeway in increasing tuition.

The board is in the process of reviewing the Four Year Tuition Plan, which was set in place in 2006 by UNC-system President Erskine Bowles. The plan, which expires this year, sets guidelines for tuition increases in the university system.

A recommendation made by a tuition task force prompts the board to discuss whether the UNC-system’s peer public institutions should continue to be used as benchmarks in setting tuition.

Board members said they don’t expect to stop using peer institutions as examples for setting tuition, but changes to the actual list of institutions is likely.

UNC-system schools currently have to keep their tuition within the bottom quartile of their peers.

“The tuition plan point of having schools being in the lower percentile of the peer institutions is consistent with our goal of keeping tuition as low as possible,” said Charles Mercer, a member of the Board of Governors.

“It is a measuring stick to let you know that you are keeping it low.”

Jeff Davies, UNC-system chief of staff, said the system should stay in the lower quarter.

“We believe it is an appropriate benchmark,” Davis said.

“We are not only in the lowest quarter but second or lowest in tuition.”

Alan Mabe, the UNC-system senior vice president for academic affairs, said tuition increases at peer institutions can impact tuition increases at UNC-system schools.

Universities would be able to increase tuition in relation to peer institutions and still stay within the bottom quartile, he said.

“If you have different peers with different tuition that would be a different measure,” Mabe said.

“The peers are increasing so that average in the lower quartile is going up, so that is a changing target that the campuses are comparing it to.”

For example, UNC-CH uses about 16 peer institutions as benchmarks to judge various things about a university, including faculty salaries, Mabe said.

Some of the University’s current peer institutions are Duke University, Emory University, University of California at Berkeley and University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.

As tuition at those universities rises, UNC-CH could have more headroom to increase tuition while staying within the bottom quartile.

The peer institutions were last reviewed when the Four Year Tuition Plan was put in place, Mabe said.

“It seems a good time to do this when a new president is on board,” Mabe said in an e-mail.

President-elect Tom Ross is slated to take over for Bowles Jan. 1.

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Mabe said many factors are taken into consideration when choosing peer institutions as they set goals for individual universities and measure success.

These factors include comparable university sizes, admission policies and degree programs.

Contact the State & National Editor at stntdesk@unc.edu.