At Thursday’s Board of Governors budget and finance committee meeting, UNC-system President Thomas Ross’s tuition plan passed by a vote of 5-1. But the discussion surrounding the vote was still contentious, and its subject has the potential to change the character of UNC even more than the highest tuition increase would.
The issue on the table was not whether to pass Ross’ plan, but how these increases would be spent. Board members discussed limiting campus autonomy in determining something that many students have taken for granted during tuition discussions: UNC’s ability to meet all demonstrated financial need.
When we discussed tuition at UNC this fall, we assumed each school would be able to allocate increases as it saw fit. At UNC, this would mean dedicating 38 percent of increases to need-based financial aid.
Ross’ plan gives campuses the chance to set their own allocations for aid. This means that even when tuition goes up, students’ expected contribution will not.
Obviously, there are still significant problems with tuition increases: sticker price deters students who might be able to afford UNC if they applied for financial aid, while students in the middle get squeezed with loans and another part-time job.
But setting aside so much tuition revenue for aid means that UNC can work with nearly every student to afford their education.
At Thursday’s meeting, board members — many of them not on the budget and finance committee — proposed limiting the amount of the increase each campus can spend on need-based aid to 25 percent.
That’s significantly lower than the 38 percent our administration has requested.
Board members argue that reserving so much for aid makes it hard to plug budgetary holes and requires that some students subsidize the education of others.
Both these claims may be true. But limiting the amount of tuition-based revenue each campus can allocate to aid will prevent the system from serving all of North Carolina’s students.
A high-tuition, high-financial aid model may impede our diversity, but this diversity will vanish completely if the board imposes a model of high tuition and low aid.
Ordinarily, students sit quietly in the back of the room during BOG meetings, if they attend at all. This semester, however, we’ve seen dramatically increased student attendance and greater familiarity with the Board of Governors itself.
Thursday, T.J. Eaves, Western Carolina’s student body president, and I were able to speak on behalf of our student bodies. We spoke about the balance of quality and affordability and the importance of each to students on our campuses. For UNC, these values have always gone hand in hand.
Independent of the amount by which tuition is increased, it is imperative that each campus be allowed to distribute revenue as appropriate between their challenges (like faculty salaries and course offerings) and financial aid.
Committing to meet 100 percent of demonstrated financial need allows UNC to serve students from across the state regardless of their family’s ability to pay. That promise does not need to be sacrificed for quality’s sake.
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