The Daily Tar Heel

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Tuesday March 28th

President Obama, Holden Thorp talk at meeting of higher education leaders to discuss student debt

Chancellor Holden Thorp met with President Barack Obama on Monday for a discussion that signals a coming national effort by the White House to make college more affordable.

Thorp was one of a dozen leaders in higher education invited to participate in the meeting, which centered on the issue of decreasing the cost of attendance at universities across the country.

Thorp said in an interview that Obama met with the attendees for about an hour, and focused not on rising tuition but student debt.

“His focus was not so much on the tuition process that has played out in this particular cycle but on the fact that he’s concerned about a lot of students not being able to pay back their loans or not going to college because they don’t want to have that debt,” Thorp said.

The Board of Trustees recently approved a 15.6 percent tuition increase for in-state students. But the average inflation-adjusted, post-graduation debt for UNC students has decreased since 2000, Thorp said.

“I think there’s a lot to be proud of there,” he said.

Thorp said Obama went around the room and asked the guests about their ideas for decreasing universities’ cost of attendance.

Thorp emphasized the University’s efforts to streamline its administration, primarily through the Carolina Counts project, an effort to cut costs by increasing efficiency that has saved UNC almost $50 million.

But he also told Obama that national attention to the issue of affordability would aid college presidents and chancellors.

“If he is really interested in college costs and starts talking about it then that will make it easier for the rest of us to focus on these things,” Thorp said.

The University will continue to work on streamlining its administration in the future but will also explore new ways to cut costs discussed at Monday’s meeting, Thorp said.

These include a stronger focus on online education and improving “gateway courses” in science and math, Thorp said.

Thorp said the group was told that the administration will look for ways to implement some of the ideas discussed.

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

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