There are 11 colleges nationwide that didn’t charge tuition for the 2014-15 year, according to U.S. News & World Report. Most of them are small, private schools, and they often require students to work on campus a certain number of hours each week.
Tuition waivers at major universities have become more popular in recent years. Two weeks ago, Stanford University decided to waive tuition costs for students whose parents make less than $125,000 per year. For students whose parents make less than $65,000 per year, there’s no need to pay room and board, either.
Stanford began its waiver program in 2008, originally waiving tuition for families that earn less than $100,000 per year and waiving room and board for those who earn less than $60,000. As a result, 77 percent of Stanford students graduate without any debt.
Debbie Cochrane, research director at the Institute for College Access and Success, said Stanford stands out for its generous financial aid offerings because of the money it has to spend.
“Stanford has relatively good financial aid packages for low-income students and most middle-income students,” Cochrane said. “They were able to build upon that to extend better financial aid offers to students at even higher incomes.”
Stanford’s endowment was calculated to be $21.4 billion in 2014. UNC’s endowment is $2.64 billion.
Public universities in North Carolina have raised tuition in part to offset years of state budget cuts. But Jay Schalin, director of policy analysis at the right-leaning Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, said it’s difficult to justify tax hikes because the state already has one of the most heavily subsidized university systems.
“The taxpayers of North Carolina are already doing their share,” he said. “Students have to pay something for themselves.”
Schalin believes public universities like UNC would be able to make their education more affordable by making cuts in the right places.
“There has not been enough attention paid to the cost side of education,” Schalin said. “Everybody’s concerned with the revenue side.”
Slight adjustments, like adding one course per year to faculty in humanity and social science departments, could be enough to free up millions of dollars, he said.
The concept of free community college has also circulated nationwide and in North Carolina.
But Cochrane said the best way for states and universities to help students graduate with minimal financial burdens is to target resources at the students who need them the most, rather than just making tuition free — especially in the case of community colleges.
“The drawback of free tuition policies is that they ignore non-tuition costs, and for community college students, that’s 80 percent of their total cost of attendance,” she said.