Fiscal strains on the University have created the harsh reality that a 6.5 percent tuition increase simply won’t do. But, in a span of two to four years, a 40 percent increase to in-state tuition would unduly burden students who came to the University with the expectation of affordable and relatively stable tuition.
Administrators must see this increase as unfair and corrosive to the longstanding value of making public education a value in North Carolina.
This proposal, discussed at the tuition and fee advisory task force’s Thursday meeting, marks only the latest example of the University turning to its students to make up for state funding cuts. Committee after committee has proposed a bevy of fees that will come on top of any tuition increase, which already stands to exceed the 6.5 percent cap.
With the understanding that this cap is unrealistic at the moment, the General Administration has temporarily lifted this cap, so long as tuition and fees remain in the bottom quartile of the University’s peers.
But a 40 percent, or $2,800, increase to this year’s $7,008 in tuition and fees would bring UNC dangerously close to this threshold. An increase of about $3,000 would place UNC’s in-state tuition above the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s and, therefore, out of the bottom 25 percent.
To his credit, Bruce Carney, executive vice chancellor and provost, has pinpointed the exact recipients of this tuition increase and has planned to devote as much as 40 percent of the hike to financial aid. The rest would go toward three areas that touch students’ educational experiences: retaining professors, increasing course offerings and decreasing class sizes.
While it’s true that course offerings have dropped, class sizes have grown and professors have jumped ship after consecutive years without a raise, students should be looked to as part of the fix — but not all of it. This increase stands to drive scores of prospective students away, not to mention freshmen and sophomores caught off guard by years of heftier increases.
Beyond these concerns, there is also the constitutional obligation to keep tuition as affordable as possible for the residents of North Carolina. Nearly doubling their tuition in such a short span is not keeping with the spirit of that requirement.
Future students will know what they’re getting into, but none of the students currently on campus signed up to come to UNC at such a high price. If any of those students want to make their voices heard before it’s too late, they have to act quickly. The tuition and fee advisory task force will meet on Nov. 14 to vote on the tuition plan.
Student Body President Mary Cooper has been working with student government and campus groups to gauge reaction to the proposal and will be holding several meetings within the next several weeks for students to voice their opinions.
Cooper and other students must understand the need for tuition hikes, but not to the extent of what administrators are calling for. They must voice their opposition and even offer alternatives before it’s too late.
If the University wants to continue as a public rather than an effectively “semi-private” university like its peers in Virginia and California, it simply cannot approve the 40 percent increase being discussed at the moment. Affordability is at the heart of what makes UNC the university of the people — and administrators must work harder to keep it that way.
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