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Decades ago, a year of college cost $1,100

Cost of attendance at UNC now tops $24,000 for in-state students

About 50 years ago, it was normal for in-state students to attend a four-year public university for less than $1,100 a year in current dollars.

John Sanders, former director of the Institute of Government, graduated from UNC in 1950 and later served as a UNC-system administrator for many years, starting in 1962.

“In my earlier years here, I don’t recall that the undergraduate tuition was an issue,” he said. “The policy of the state was to keep tuition as low as feasible, and students were looked to as the providers of the additional margin of income.

“When I finished college and law school, I had no debt, and I think that was not as uncommon as it is today,” Sanders said.

In contrast, Mark Baucom, who attended UNC from 1982 to 1986, said he had to take out loans and participate in a work-study program while attending college.

“I worked in the Student Union about 12 to 14 hours a week. Of the 20 people I ran with, probably five of them worked on campus,” Baucom said.

The in-state cost of attending a four-year public university ranged from about $3,400 to $4,100 per year while Baucom was in college. Adjusted for inflation, the cost of his education likely totaled about $13,000 over the three and a half years he attended UNC.

“I lived in a suite with eight guys — my roommate had loans each year,” he said. “Even back then a lot of the students took out loans. The group I ran with, about 20 people, at least half of them had loans.”

Tony Blanchard played football at UNC from 1967 to 1971, and he had all tuition and fees paid for — though the average in-state cost for public four-year schools at the time was just $5,283.

He said when he attended UNC, the price was the draw for most students.

Despite having debt, Baucom was able to pay them off at about $90 per month for four years.

Student loans are a much greater burden today.

“My paying for college is done through scholarships, me working entirely over the summer, working during school and some of my parents’ aid as well,” said Ethan Koch, a UNC freshman from Nebraska.

Cost of attendance rose to $50,938 for out-of-state students at UNC this year. In-state tuition remains low compared to the national average, but it increased at double the national average rate in the past five years. Resident students paid $24,120 to attend in the 2014-15 year.

“It’s definitely a constant strain. It’s something that is an underlying fear and frustration, but it definitely resurfaces as the time to pay for school every semester nears,” Koch said.

Koch said he receives grants and subsidized loans and holds a work study job, but he still has to work a job in the summer and cannot volunteer or intern, which he would prefer.

“Next year I will be a (resident adviser), which will help me an incredible amount, but had I not gotten that position, I don’t know if I’d be able to pay for Carolina, truthfully,” Koch said.

North Carolina continues to devote more money than most states to public higher education — the state still contributes about $2 for every $1 of tuition in the UNC system. But the trend of rising tuition has impacted students.

James Moeser, UNC chancellor from 2000 to 2008, said he thinks the rise in student costs is largely due to N.C. General Assembly cuts.

He also thinks the competitive nature of attracting and retaining faculty — which often requires university-funded incentives — is a factor.

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An in-state student’s cost of attending UNC during Moeser’s time as chancellor ranged from $11,668 in 2001-02 to $15,250 in 2006-07.

Blanchard said he thinks the wide availability of financial aid today also gives universities some leeway in raising tuition.

Moeser is optimistic about UNC’s cost of attendance, particularly because the University guarantees that it will meet 100 percent of students’ financial need.

“All of the data reflect that Chapel Hill is still an amazing bargain. It’s one of the most accessible and affordable public flagship research universities in the country,” he said.

But Sanders said the University’s current cost of attendance is regrettable.

“The ideal is that you would be able to get a college degree without incurring debt that one would spend years later paying off,” he said.