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Saturday April 1st

UNC-system schools work to keep tuition rates comparable to peers'

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Although UNC’s tentative multi-year proposal to increase tuition by 40 percent would fit within the confines of the UNC-system Board of Governors’ tuition policy, board members say it’s not a foregone conclusion that the increase will be approved.

The board approved a new Four Year Tuition Plan last year, which maintained a 6.5 percent cap on tuition increases proposed by universities. But the plan also included a clause permitting schools to “catch up” to their public peer institutions’ tuition and fee rates, as long as they remain within the bottom quarter of their peers’.

UNC’s tuition and fee advisory task force met last month and discussed a proposal to increase tuition by $2,800 during a two-to-four year span. The increase would raise the University’s tuition and fee rate to $9,808 for all resident undergraduate students.

Charlie Perusse, vice president for finance for the system, said UNC’s tuition and fee rate would remain within the bottom quarter of its peers’ rates after such an increase.

The bottom quarter rate, which is the maximum amount the University can raise its tuition and fees, stands at $9,741. But UNC’s tuition and fee increases will be phased in and not surpass that mark in a single academic year, Perusse said.

The system’s General Administration will work with the University to ensure its tuition and fees remain below the bottom quarter as the rates of its peers fluctuate, he said.

Yet remaining within the bottom quarter does not guarantee that the proposal will be approved by the board, said Brad Wilson, emeritus member and former chairman of the board.

“Just because you have the headroom within the lower quartile does not mean, by definition, that the Board of Governors would accept it,” he said. “Each proposal is judged on its own merits.”

Wilson said a number of other factors will influence the board’s decision, including the historical role of tuition as a secondary source of revenue to state appropriations. The state’s constitution says that a public university education should be free for state residents “as far as practicable.”

An “aggressive” proposal from UNC to increase tuition might also embolden other campuses in the system to follow suit, undermining the goals of predictability and stability outlined in the board’s new tuition plan, he said.

“Any time you have a policy and you start making more exceptions, then the exception becomes the rule,” he said.

Hannah Gage, chairwoman of the board, said the loss of more than $1 billion in state funding for the system during the last five years must be balanced with the state’s economic woes. A cut in state funding of 15.6 percent, or $414 million, this year prompted universities to eliminate about 3,000 filled positions and hundreds of course sections.

“We can talk about keeping our competitive edge, and we can frame each campus’ tuition in the context of their public peers,” Gage said.

After the board votes on tuition increase proposals in February, the N.C. General Assembly will receive recommendations from the board for granting final approval to tuition rates.

Rep. Verla Insko, D-Orange, said she would vote for a substantial tuition increase at UNC to ensure that the system’s flagship maintained its academic quality and ability to compete with its peers.

“Without the General Assembly appropriating funding to support education, then there’s little choice but to raise tuition,” she said. “I can understand why the University is doing that.”

Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, said that any tuition increase above the cap would receive scrutiny from legislators.

Universities must also focus more on implementing online courses and restructuring administration to be more efficient in the delivery of instruction, he said.

“Those opportunities for savings and for greater efficiency need to be fully reviewed and to every extent possible fully implemented before additional increases are contemplated.”

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