The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Monday March 20th

President Obama discusses college affordability with Thorp, other chancellors

For many public universities, the 2011 school year has been defined by state budget cuts, dwindling resources and looming tuition hikes.

Several student-led movements have been held across the country in protest of continued tuition increases with students saying education has become too expensive.

But relief could soon be in sight.

President Barack Obama hosted a round-table discussion Monday with a dozen chancellors and presidents. The meeting, which lasted for about an hour and a half, focused on how to make colleges more affordable.

Attendees, including UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp, shared how they have worked to promote innovation, reduce costs and increase productivity during a time of reduced state funding for higher education.

Many administrators say Obama’s interest in making a university education more affordable could shift the financial struggle into federal hands.

“They did tell us that they’ll be following up to collect ideas and try to figure out how the federal government can propagate some of those ideas all across higher education,” Thorp said.

“I think you’re going to see more talk from them about this.”

King Alexander, president of California State University-Long Beach, who attended the meeting, said attendees were also asked to speak about financial challenges their universities have faced.

“We actually asked the federal government to use to its financial leverage — whether it’s tax credits or financial aid — to make sure our states don’t remove themselves from their funding responsibilities,” Alexander said.

He said his school is suffering from a 27 percent budget cut.

“We’ve increased tuition total by about 18 percent, but that only helps us make up about one-third of that cut,” he said. “We’ve had to close our doors for about 12 days during the normal school year. That’s how bad it’s gotten during the normal school year.”

Some of the institutions represented at the meeting are known for their innovative use of online technology — a tool that administrators within the UNC system hope to utilize in the near future.

The UNC-system Board of Governors has been discussing the use of online courses as a potential cost-saving tool for the past six years, said Hannah Gage, chairwoman of the board.

“Some of the things we wanted to do were not embraced or fell on deaf ears,” Gage said. “But time has been our friend, and the economy has been another friend. And when you get the president on board also that will add more juice to it.”

The board hopes to hire a new director to oversee online education by March.

Other schools nationwide are also embracing online courses.

Alexander said he and the other 22 California State University presidents will be meeting today with the Western Governors University president, who was also at the White House meeting, to discuss a potential partnership.

Western Governors University is an accredited online university that offers bachelor’s and master’s degree programs.

“We may be forming a partnership with (the university) to get more online education opportunities out there for not only our current students but for students who need access in California and all of the world.”

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