The Daily Tar Heel

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Tuesday March 28th

UNC tuition rates to undergo review of peer universities

University students and parents will be relieved to find that a supplemental tuition increase has not been tacked onto their bills this summer.

But that sense of relief could only be a temporary respite for families who have paid 39 percent more in tuition at UNC-system schools in the last three years.

The Board of Governors will be examining tuition models at campuses considered to be peer institutions to system schools this fall to determine if tuition rates should be adjusted for next year.

“I don’t mean a sort of year-to-year tuition increase due to inflationary factors or that sort of thing,” said UNC-system President Thomas Ross. “I mean an adjustment to bring us more in line with our peers.”

Jeff Davies, chief of staff for Ross, said system administrators are currently in the process of selecting peers for the campuses.

The board previously approved a set of peers as a reference for campuses, but administrators decided to overhaul the list after implementing a state funding cut of 15.6 percent or $414 million across the system, he said.

The system has now absorbed more than $1 billion in state funding cuts during the last five years. After eliminating about 900 administrative positions in the last three years, provosts across the system will be allocating the majority of cuts to academic operations without extra tuition revenue to soften the blow.

Davies said the system won’t necessarily adopt the tuition models of other public institutions, which have steadily increased tuition rates as state funding has declined in a tough economic climate.

“Tuition is increased when there is a justified need,” he said. “I don’t ever see us going, ‘Oh, this is what our peer’s tuition rates are, this is where ours have to be.’ I see that as a benchmark to weigh against what the dollars will raise from the tuition increase.”

The University of California system, which has several of the nation’s top-ranked public institutions, approved a supplemental tuition increase of 9.6 percent last week to partially offset a state funding cut of $650 million. The system’s state appropriations have been cut by $880 million in the last four years.

Other premier public universities have also been forced to rely on tuition as a more prominent revenue source. Tuition revenue makes up 69 percent of the budget for the University of Michigan, while state funding accounts for 17 percent.

The University of Virginia derives less than 6 percent of its funding from state appropriations, while tuition and fees account for 17.6 percent of its budget. State funding comprises 22 percent of UNC-Chapel Hill’s budget and 40 percent of N.C. State University’s budget.

Jay Schalin, senior writer for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, a nonprofit institute that advocates for more efficient university administration, said the system’s flagship schools — including UNC-Chapel Hill — will need to raise tuition if they hope to continue competing with other top public universities.

And though the state’s constitution says a public university education should be free for state residents “as far as practicable,” Schalin said it’s a vague guideline that has been broadly interpreted in the past.

“North Carolina is a very specific state and, yes, it should not be a lemming that goes over the cliff,” he said. “But I do believe the UNC system has to move toward greater (tuition) differentiation among its schools.”

Davies said it remains unclear how much the tuition models of system schools will be altered, if at all. But the mission of the system’s administrators and chancellors remains the same, he said.

“Our goal would be to ensure academic quality at all of our institutions,” he said. “But it’s hard to take $414 million out of the budget in a single year and believe that academics won’t be impacted.”

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