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BOG members undecided on supporting substantial tuition hikes

The UNC-system president’s proposal for tuition increases is made every year, and historically the UNC-system Board of Governors votes in favor of his recommendation.

But with President Thomas Ross recommending increases above the board’s mandated 6.5 percent tuition increase cap, and with the state’s continued economic instability, some board members say they are not sure they want to support such substantial tuition hikes.

“At the moment, I’m undecided,” board member Phil Dixon said. “I have a preference for the 6.5 (percent cap), but I do know the campuses are really suffering.”

The board will decide tuition and fee increases for all UNC-system schools at its Feb. 10 meeting.

“In my area of the state, a small increase in tuition is really hurtful. They are really struggling,” he said. “Some compromise may be possible. I think that is what Tom (Ross) is trying to reach.”

Jeff Davies, chief of staff of the UNC General Administration, said historically the board has approved the president’s recommendations.

Dixon, who first joined the board in 2005, said he doesn’t think the board ever voted against former system President Erskine Bowles’ tuition proposals.

“We had so much respect for (Bowles),” Dixon said. “He was the one who put in the cap.”

The 6.5 percent cap on tuition increases Dixon is referring to is part of the guidelines that Bowles first established in 2006 in the Four-Year Tuition Plan, which was created to maintain high-quality but affordable education at all UNC-system schools.

Ross’ tuition increase proposal, released last week, was lower than seven of the campus’ proposals — all of which exceeded his 10 percent increase threshold.

Ross did not exceed 9.9 percent increases for in-state tuition and fee increases. Although the combined tuition and fee increase he recommended for UNC-CH is 9.9 percent, the tuition increase alone is about 13.5 percent — slightly less than the University’s requested 15.6 percent increase.

Ross’ proposal would be $105 less per in-state undergraduate at UNC-CH than what the University proposed, and $2.3 million less in overall proposed in-state revenue for the University.

While board members are deliberating the pending proposals, administrators are pushing for increases that they say will help them better retain faculty, increase the quality of education and allow them to better compete with their peers.

James Dean, dean of the Kenan-Flagler Business School at UNC, said the school’s MBA program needs a tuition increase in order to allow it to better compete with peer institutions like the University of Michigan.

“We compete with business schools around the country and around the world and by that standard our tuition is low to moderate,” he said.

But Ross, in his tuition increase proposal, said he had to recommend a lower increase for UNC-CH’s MBA program because the school’s demography was trending “uncomfortably” toward a heavier out-of-state student population.

The MBA program is primarily made up of out-of-state students and has been for a long time. Only about 20 percent are in-state, Dean said.

Dixon said it’s going to be difficult to “sell” the board on tuition increase proposals above the 6.5 percent cap.

“I don’t really know how it is going to play out,” he said.

Despite hesitance from some board members, student body presidents from all of the UNC-system universities signed a statement this past weekend endorsing Ross’ tuition increases.?

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