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Student groups protest tuition hikes after 60 programs cut

UNC students demand that the Board of Governors allow equal education access to all, including undocumented workers, and not let the burden of the economy fall on students and the working class. The protest took place Friday morning, starting in the pit and going down South Road towards the Board of Governors.

About 30 student protestors marched from the Pit to the UNC-system Board of Governors meeting Friday, determined to bring attention to how students could be affected by budget cuts and tuition hikes.

Board members voted to eliminate 60 degree programs systemwide and increase tuition by an average of $208 for undergraduate in-state students in an effort to offset the expected decrease in state funding.

“We must avoid permanent damage to the University,” said UNC-system President Thomas Ross at the meeting.

There needs to be a balance between quality and access, he said. Although the board decided to approve the increases proposed by most campuses, tuition at UNC-system schools remains much lower than that at peer institutions nationwide.

“But I know that’s no consolation to those trying to find the dollars,” Ross said.

The protestors, members of N.C. Defend Education Coalition, chanted and held signs outside the Spangler Center — the meeting place of the board — until they were invited inside by board members.

The coalition is made up of UNC-CH students and drop-outs from across the UNC system, who were demonstrating against the tuition hikes, program cuts and faculty layoffs, among other issues.

The coalition is seeking the attention of the board because it is one of the largest lobbying groups in the state, said UNC junior Laurel Ashton and a member of the coalition.

“Higher education is not a privilege, it is a right — a right we’re willing to fight for,” she said.

The coalition was successful in securing a half-hour-long meeting with Hannah Gage, chairwoman of the board, and Ross.

Coalition member Eva Panjwani, 23, said she had to drop out of UNC-CH a year ago because she was no longer able to afford paying for tuition.

“I guess I’ll just stay in retail,” Panjwani said. “All those years of honors and APs will just lead me to selling toys.”

Both Gage and Ross thanked the coalition members for their attendance and respectful attitude.

“We are fairly isolated from students,” Gage said. “We don’t hear the real concerns, because if students are working two or three jobs, they can’t make it to our meetings — they’re working.

“We know cuts are hurting academic experiences,” she said.

Gage suggested the coalition work with the UNC Association of Student Governments or another venue besides the board.

Ross also said former UNC-Charlotte Chancellor Jim Woodward’s systemwide review to eliminate duplication is a new initiative; however, Woodward will not be starting from scratch.

“Our campuses scrutinize low productivity,” Ross said.

The board approved discontinuing 60 programs based on their low productivity and low enrollment, said James Deal, chair of the board’s educational planning, policies and programs committee. Only three new programs were approved, he said.

Board members are unsure of how much money the system will save as a result of the cuts.

“It’s hard to put a price tag on the programs, because they have relatively low enrollment,” Gage said.

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Ross said this process will become even more aggressive.

“Over 200 programs have been identified with low enrollment.”

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