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Tuesday March 28th

UNC-system schools propose tuition increases, respond to expected budget shortfall

UNC system responds to budget concerns

Universities across the UNC system are proposing tuition hikes well above the average in response to the state’s expected $3.5 billion budget shortfall.

And with the change in control of the N.C. General Assembly, the final cost, as well as where the revenue from the increases will go, remains unknown.

Throwing out predictability

In 2006, UNC-system President Erskine Bowles set in place the Four Year Tuition Plan, which established guidelines for tuition increases within the UNC system. The plan holds university administrators accountable for keeping the tuition increases at or below a 6.5 percent cap for undergraduate resident students.

After the tuition plan was set to expire at the end of this year, the UNC-system Board of Governors adopted a Second Four-Year Plan, which allows schools to ask for tuition increases above the cap for undergraduate in-state students in times of need.

In the past, the board has been hesitant to approve high tuition increases, but that could change because of the expected lack of state funding.

UNC-Chapel Hill, UNC-Pembroke, UNC-Greensboro and N.C. Agricultural & Technical State University are four of the system schools who have said they expect to go before the board in January and ask for the maximum increase.

Hannah Gage, chairwoman of the board, said in an e-mail she’s not surprised at the number of schools asking for the maximum tuition increase.

“As the reality of the budget cuts sinks in and we begin to hear legislators talking about 15 percent cuts rather than 5 or 10 percent, campuses are looking at tuition as one of the few tools they have to protect the quality of education on our campuses.

“I believe many board members are comfortable with this range, but it’s really too early in the process to predict with degree of accuracy what we’ll do,” she said.

There has been concern as to whether the tuition money will go to a general fund for the state or back to the campuses.

Gage said there are indications the new legislative leadership supports letting campuses keep tuition money on the campus — as opposed to using it to plug the state’s deficit.

But two years ago, when the state faced a similar shortfall, the general assembly approved a $200 hike and required the revenue to go toward the state’s general fund.

What the cuts mean

Alan Boyette, vice provost for UNC-G, said the university is one step away from submitting a tuition plan proposal for next year to the board.

The school’s tuition subcommittee approved a 6.5 percent increase for tuition, and the fees subcommittee approved a 6.45 percent increase in fees for next year, he said.

Boyette said a 10 percent budget cut would cost UNC-G $17.2 million, and the proposed tuition increase would only compensate for $4.5 million.

“My crystal ball is pretty cloudy, and it always has been on these issues, but sources from the general administration seem to suggest that the Board of Governors will be supportive of our requests,” he said.

New leadership in the state

The board hasn’t worked with a Republican-led General Assembly in more than 100 years.

“I would think Republicans would like to see certain things done differently than what the Democrats did, but we will certainly try to work together to accomplish what needs to get done,” said N.C. Rep. Larry Brown, R-Davidson.

Last year the N.C. General Assembly allowed schools to approve up to a $750 supplemental increase after the schools had already proposed their own tuition increases.

After UNC approved a 5.2 percent tuition increase for all students, in-state students were surprised with a 24.6 percent hike after the $750 supplemental increase.

Brown said the General Assembly can’t project what the state’s final budget cuts will be this year.

Gage said low-income families might suffer from tuition increases.

“The wild card right now is need- based financial aid because every time our tuition goes up, more students need aid,” she said. “So that’s the ticking time bomb right now. How will we provide need-based financial aid to the approximately 100,000 low- and middle-income students who need it?”

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