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Could out-of-state tuition go up for UNC students?

students walking quad
UNC students resume class as normal; the main quad is routinely crowded on Jan. 10, 2019 during the first week of class.

A North Carolina state senator has drafted a bill that, if passed, would increase tuition for some out-of-state undergraduate students. 

Under Senate Bill 351, sponsored by N.C. Sen. Tom McInnis, R-Anson, out-of-state undergraduates at UNC and North Carolina State University would pay $5,000 more in tuition for the 2019-2020 academic year. The Board of Governors would then not be allowed to lower out-of-state tuition below that level in coming years, although it could also opt to not increase tuition beyond that.         

McInnis said he was driven by the concerns of his constituents. 

“The reason for my law is, I represent three of the poorest counties in North Carolina, in my district: Scotland, Richmond and Anson County,” he said.

All three counties have median household incomes less than the state median and poverty rates above the state average.      

In 2016, the state legislature approved a program in which new resident undergraduates and new transfer students who remain continuously enrolled pay a fixed tuition rate. For example, a tuition increase for the 2017-2018 school year would only apply to first-time enrollees for the fall of 2017.

“I’ve got a lot of parents down there and a lot of kids that scrimp and save and do without to be able to get enough money to be able to go the flagship schools of the University of North Carolina System, Chapel Hill and N.C. State,” said McInnis. 

For the 2018-2019 academic year, undergraduate residents attending UNC pay around $4,500 in tuition per semester. Out-of-state undergraduates pay around $17,500. 

According to a government impact assessment, tuition for undergraduate in-state students would potentially decrease by $862 next year if the bill passes.

“It’s clearly not the solution to the problem that we confront, which is that we ought to be trying to make UNC live up to its historical mission of being a beacon of free education,” said Rob Schofield, director of N.C. Policy Watch.   

Schofield argued the bill ignored a major cause of higher tuition: low government funding.     

Since the Great Recession in 2008, per-student funding for higher education has decreased in almost every state. In North Carolina, the figure has decreased by over 18 percent. 

“It’s been one of the most glaring mistakes that the General Assembly has made over the last decade, the sustained under-investment in the UNC System and community colleges,” he said.

McInnis said the bill would further the vision that the state constitution lays out for North Carolina’s higher education system: that higher education be available to state residents at the lowest feasible price.

“Article Nine of the constitution does not make any provision for selling out-of-state tuition cheap to out-of-state students,” he said.  

Even with the tuition increase, he said, out-of-state students would not be getting a bad deal. UNC, for example, charged them around $35,000 in tuition and fees this academic year, comparable to other flagship public universities across the country. 

"What I want to do is level the playing field a little bit. If the folks want to come here from out of state, we’re glad to have them," McInnis said. "But they need to pay what the market rate is.” 


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