In an effort to address both students’ concerns about tuition hikes and administrators’ concerns about a loss of academic quality after years of budget cuts, UNC-system President Thomas Ross aims to meet them halfway.
Ross said he will recommend tuition and fee increases of less than 10 percent for in-state undergraduates at all system schools to members of the Board of Governors, which met Thursday in a room packed with campus administrators and students.
Several universities proposed tuition and fee increases above that mark, including UNC-CH’s proposal of 11.4 percent. Schools proposed average tuition and fee increases of 9.6 percent systemwide.
“It’s about a balance,” Ross said. “It’s about a balance between low tuition and high quality, maintaining excellence.”
Ross also said he will recommend increases for two years rather than the five-year plans proposed by many system schools. UNC-CH’s Board of Trustees submitted a proposal to increase tuition by $2,800, or 40 percent, during the next five years.
Board members will receive Ross’ recommendations in the next couple of weeks in preparation for a vote on tuition increases in February. The board will then send their recommendations to the N.C. General Assembly for final approval.
Bruce Carney, executive vice chancellor and provost for UNC-CH, said the University’s Board of Trustees will continue to seek approval of their proposed tuition increase from the Board of Governors.
“I’m still in wait-and-see mode,” said Carney, who is the author of the 40 percent increase proposal.
The system’s net reduction of $482 million in funding for campuses in the last four years has resulted in fewer course sections and larger class sizes for students. Chancellors have also cited the need to retain faculty through pay raises in their requests for more tuition revenues.
UNC-CH lost 110 of the 201 faculty who received external offers in the last two years. If the board opts to approve smaller tuition increases recommended by Ross, campuses will have fewer resources to restore core academic functions, Chancellor Holden Thorp said.
“The things we want to do with the tuition increase are faculty retention and restore class sections and make classes smaller, and we’ll be able to do less of that if we have a smaller increase,” he said.
Thorp added that all of the system’s universities include affordability for students as a factor in their tuition increase proposals.
“We came to the conclusion that what we’ve recommended is not going to compromise access to the University,” he said. “When you see all of the campuses with similar kinds of increases, you see 16 parallel processes that all came to the same conclusion.”
Other chancellors presented information about the impact of budget cuts on their tuition increase proposals to board members at the meeting.
Randy Woodson, chancellor of N.C. State University, said his campus has absorbed permanent cuts of $127 million in state funding in the last five years.
Administrators have sought to hire more part-time faculty to grapple with rising enrollment, but the university’s student-faculty ratio has continued to increase, Woodson said. N.C. State’s proposed tuition and fee increase of 10.4 percent would generate $31 million in revenue, less than half of the university’s $80 million reduction in state funding this year.
“This is not putting on the backs of students the cost of higher education,” he said.
Ross urged board members to consider the impact of tuition increases on families and students in their analysis of campuses’ proposals. The state’s sputtering economy — including an unemployment rate of 10 percent — is one of the main reasons Ross said he will recommend lower tuition increases than the campuses.
“Not because I don’t believe the requests are justified, but instead because I believe — given the times we’re in and the needs of the families and students that we serve — we just can’t go as high as some of the campuses have demonstrated need for,” he said.
The state’s constitution also requires system schools to provide a free university education for state residents “as far as practicable,” another consideration for board members.
Student protesters opposed to the University’s proposal marched to the meeting Thursday, but many had to watch the proceedings on a TV monitor in the lobby due to the overcrowded board room.
UNC-CH Student Body President Mary Cooper said she thinks Ross understands that balance must be achieved between the University’s needs and the strain of tuition increases on students and their families.
“I sat on the floor in a classroom Monday night because there weren’t enough seats,” Cooper said. “All this is coming together and making people wonder about the University’s future.”
Senior Writers Elizabeth Johnson and Tarini Parti contributed reporting.
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