Students at three UNC-System schools – UNC-Pembroke, Western Carolina University and Elizabeth City State University – are seeing decreases this semester in their tuition costs thanks to the NC Promise Plan.
The N.C. Promise Tuition Plan, which the program's website calls a “significant investment,” aims to support economic development in the state by helping North Carolina grow a well-educated workforce and increase the number of high-performing, out-of-state students while also decreasing the amount of students with college debt.
According to the program's website, these schools were partly chosen for the program due to a historical commitment to providing accessible education and their locations in the state. WCU is located in the Western part of the state, ECSU is located on the coast and UNC-P is relatively in the middle.
The site says the schools will be able to afford these tuition changes because the state has a matching dollar-for-dollar fund between current tuition costs and the N.C. Promise Plan Tuition Plan cost.
“The end result is affordability for students without sacrificing quality,” the site said.
Luke Marsden, a sophomore at WCU, said since tuition has gone down, students are a lot happier.
“Tuition is super cheap now,” he said. “Students are a little bothered by the increases in other things, but overall, students are really happy."
Graham Harrington, a first-year at WCU, said she did know about the N.C. Promise Plan when she initially applied to the school, but it did seal the deal for her. She said the overall sentiments of the other students were positive and the first-year class continued the school's growth trend with ease.
Skylar Toms, a sophomore transfer student at UNC-P, said the N.C. Promise Plan was pivotal in her college-decision process.
“Part of the reason I chose (UNC-P) was it was so much cheaper than other North Carolina schools,” she said.
The North Carolina General Assembly passed $11 million of funding that made the plan possible in the Current Operations Appropriations Act of 2018. The bill also referred to the plan as a state “buy down” of certain financial obligations, which allows borrowers of money to obtain a lower interest rate.
The source of the $11 million in funding was the General Fund.
Provisions in the bill lay out plans for the UNC-system Board of Governors and the chancellors of each university to submit reports to legislative committees about the amount of financial obligations and the numbers of students enrolled.
Phil Cauley, assistant vice chancellor at WCU, said Western has sent previews to the BOG, but there will not be an official report sent until it conducts the annual census of the undergraduate population on the tenth day of classes.
The news about the legislation initially surprised the university community, he said. Although it was appreciative, there was a fair amount of skepticism and confusion from faculty, students and parents due to the vague and minimal description of the program in the language of the legislation.
Cauley said the impact of the program has yet to be seen because the program only went into effect at the beginning of this fall semester, and the university is avoiding attributing any change in student demographics to the NC Promise Plan, noting that there has been a steady increase of almost 300 students per class each year for 10 years.
He said the most notable reaction he got for the program came from the parents – partly due to a sizable portion of parents bearing the responsibility to pay the bill – but the great majority of students did not know about the program before applying.
“If it wasn’t a decider for them to apply, it was a decision-shaper once they applied, and it was one of the things that sealed the deal or tipped the scale in favor of Western,” he said.
Cauley said the program has the potential to increase access and decrease indebtedness for students, especially since it is the status quo for the universities until the General Assembly says otherwise.
“Hopefully it does this for students – students who may otherwise have thought that a four-year degree was not in their future because of cost and a price point,” he said. “Suddenly, that gives them hope that this is attainable.”
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