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Former UNC-system President Dick Spangler wants to keep tuition low

Offsetting budget cuts has spurred a divide between administrators, with some leaning toward substantial tuition increases and others calling for alternate forms of action.

Former UNC-system President Dick Spangler said the University must maintain its low cost and high quality of education.

Spangler offered 10 recommendations to avoid raising tuition for in-state students at a panel discussion with four former UNC-system presidents and current president Thomas Ross earlier this month.

But while Spangler’s suggestions would cut costs in the short term, administrators say tuition increases are a more viable revenue source for universities’ long-term budgetary woes.

The system absorbed a state funding cut of 15.6 percent this year, and many universities are considering substantial tuition increase proposals to offset this $414 million shortfall.

Spangler, who led the system from 1986 to 1997, said raising tuition would contradict the stated purpose of UNC-system schools in the state constitution.

The constitution says system schools must provide a free university education for state residents “as far as practicable.”

Because of the state’s 10.5 percent unemployment rate, many families wouldn’t even consider applying to UNC-system schools if tuition rates were raised, he said.

“One of the great assets of our state has been the UNC schools because we train students who then can get a job and pay taxes,” he said. “By preserving tuition, the state is investing in leaders and employees.”

Spangler said none of his recommendations will detract from the academic quality of schools.

Some of his temporary two-year recommendations would affect faculty through layoffs and salary adjustments, which Spangler said is a difficult decision but a necessary one.

For example, transferring universities’ registered nursing programs to community colleges would cut operational costs in half, Spangler said. But faculty earn a higher salary at a university than a community college.

“The purpose of the university is not to preserve jobs, it’s to preserve students’ access to education.”

Another one of Spangler’s recommendations, which will likely be discussed at the January Board of Governors meeting, suggests temporarily freezing salaries for university employees earning more than $100,000 per year.

Charlie Perusse, vice president for finance for the UNC system, said universities utilize salary increases to retain faculty who have received offers from other schools.

This recommendation will also not have the perceived cost benefit for schools because of existing limits on salary increases, he said.

Perusse said there is value in several of Spangler’s other recommendations, such as eliminating certain administrative positions, but implementation would cover a small portion of the budgetary cut for the UNC-system.

Marilyn Sheerer, provost and senior vice chancellor for East Carolina University, said tuition might be the only solution for schools strapped for funding.

“Tuition increases are inevitable,” Sheerer said. “But we have to be careful not to violate the purpose of UNC-system schools, which is to provide accessibility to N.C. students.”

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