The Daily Tar Heel

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Sunday February 5th

Q&A with UNC financial aid expert Eric Johnson

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The College Board released its annual Trends in Higher Education report this week, which outlined the rising cost of college tuition and the importance of financial aid. Staff Writer Anica Midthun sat down with Eric Johnson, a spokesperson for UNC’s financial aid office, to talk about the report’s takeaways and how these costs are affecting students and the future of higher education.

The Daily Tar Heel: Why do these reports matter to students, and what are the usual responses from students and families?

Eric Johnson: The reports matters for students because it reflects the reality of rising college costs, and so I think they are valuable because they focus attention on what is clearly a public policy concern.

I don’t think that most students and families look closely at these sort of reports. I think they are worried about college costs, and I think they pay attention to how much it is going to cost to go to the schools they are interested in. The value of these reports are less of an individual tool and more of a way to focus public attention on a problem that is so prevalent.

DTH: Does UNC-Chapel Hill suffer from the same rising costs that other schools do?

EJ: Yes, absolutely. The 10-year tuition and fee report from 2003-04 to 2013-14 shows that the cost of Chapel Hill tuition rose 105 percent. So at a time when most family’s incomes have not risen that much, college costs are continuing to rise.

DTH: Where do these increased costs stem from?

EJ: At least for public institutions, a significant rise has come from public divestment in higher education. The state used to pick up a much larger chunk of what it used to cost to run a university, and instead of getting cheaper, universities have shifted the cost to students and families.

DTH: Do all students utilize financial aid?

EJ: Students often turn down the portion of financial aid that is given in loans. But I don’t know anyone who would turn down grants and scholarships, and that’s the vast majority of what we offer. Seventy-one percent of the financial aid that we offer to undergraduates comes in the form of grants and scholarships. Very few public schools have that kind of mix.

DTH: Do you see any particular trends in college costs at UNC?

EJ: The cost of college has gone up. But if you look at UNC student debt over the same time, it’s barely moved. Even as tuition has increased, UNC students are not borrowing any more than they did ten years ago — which is one way we measure if we are doing a good job protecting the students who need to be protected.

DTH: What does this mean for the future of education and how people will finance it?

EJ: I think you will see a lot of people finding different ways to pay for college. I don’t think you will see significantly fewer amounts of people going to college because it is becoming more and more of a requirement for successful economic life. Whether that’s a good idea is a broader question.

... Even if the cost of college has gone up this much, going to college at a good school still pays off handsomely. The economic situation for those that don’t earn a degree are so challenging that the returns for those who do earn a degree are still high. If you can get good answers to why the cost of college keeps going up, you’ll be the first in the nation.


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