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UNC System will not change tuition and fees, waives testing requirements for 2021

A student studies from home. Though UNC is set to reopen with both online and in-person instruction, the instructional format may shift later in the school year towards an all-online approach, but this shift would not cause a change in tuition fees.

The UNC System will not change or refund tuition and student fees for the 2020-2021 academic year even if instruction goes remote, the Board of Governors voted Thursday at its July meeting. 

The BOG also passed a motion to waive standardized testing requirements for 2021 admissions and prepared to pass the torch from UNC System interim President Bill Roper to incoming President Peter Hans. 

Tuition and fees for 2020-2021

Chairperson of the Committee on Budget and Finance James Holmes Jr. presented the motion to affirm that tuition and fees would not change or be refunded “regardless of any changes to instructional format that may occur for any part of the [2020-2021] academic year." 

At a meeting of the Committee on Budget and Finance Wednesday, Holmes clarified that the motion applies to tuition and five basic student fees: athletics, health, student activities, debt service and student government association. 

These fees are normally waived for study abroad or distanced education, and apply to students who are considered regular term. 

"Those that are regular term, which would include those who shift to online via Zoom, or whatever other method, would just continue to remain regular term," Clinton Carter, chief financial officer of the UNC System, said on Wednesday. 

This motion about tuition and fees does not apply to auxiliary fees, such as housing, Holmes said during the Board's full meeting. 

"The tuition and fees we collect are important to sustaining this important mission, not just for today's students, but for the students who will attend our institutions in the future," Holmes said. 

The motion passed. This comes after the Board's decision in May to freeze increases on tuition and fees.

Members Marty Kotis, Isaiah Green and Thom Goolsby argued against the motion. 

"I don't feel like it's appropriate to pass these costs onto the students," Kotis said. "Everybody's struggling right now, the students and families are struggling — if they have to go back to online and they're taking Zoom classes, they're getting an inferior experience in my opinion." 

Kotis argued if there was a return to remote instruction, tuition costs would overcharge students. 

"To throw fees on top of that is adding insult to injury," he said.  

He described the financial struggles facing the UNC System as "self-inflicted," stemming from overspending on athletic programs and stadiums. 

Isaiah Green, student body president at UNC Asheville and student representative on the board, said these tuition bills could be "catastrophic" for families. 

"Putting it on the families who may have lost their jobs, putting it on the children who do not have jobs yet and are trying to enter the job market but can't right now, is not a sustainable solution," Green said. 

Even if instruction reverts to remote delivery, "the result is the same," said member Terry Hutchens, as students will still receive instruction and receive credit. 

Green responded that even though the end result is the same, the learning quality differs. Green said his classes are all online, so he will stay off-campus in the fall. 

"I'm not understanding why I, or other students who are all online, would pay the same price as a student who is physically in-person," Green said. 

Goolsby expressed concerns over competition with other university systems. Other online learning programs, including North Carolina community colleges, offer online classes at a much lower cost, he said.

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"We may be digging our own graves in this, keeping the tuition at these levels for the digital learning," he said. 

BOG Chairperson Randy Ramsey added that the Board's Committee on Budget and Finance will begin a "deep dive" into the cost of tuition and fees. 

Testing requirements waived 

The BOG also passed a motion waiving testing requirements for the upcoming admission cycle in 2021.

This will be a one-year waiver permitting applicants to choose not to submit test scores, due to the impacts of COVID-19. Students can still submit test scores for consideration in the admissions process.

"It is very important to note that the committee did not consider, in any way, a permanent change on policy," said member Temple Sloan, who serves as chairperson for the Committee on Educational Planning, Policies, and Programs. 

Member Steven Long offered an amended proposal that standardized test waivers only be granted if a student presents a written certification that they could not take a standardized test or retest due to COVID-19. This amendment was supported by Art Pope, one of the latest appointments to the BOG. 

The amended motion was dismissed, and the original motion carried. 

Green, Kotis and Secretary Pearl Burris-Floyd agreed that the requirement of standardized tests puts an unnecessary burden on students. 

"I think we are dealing with an unprecedented time right now, and I think we've got to consider the mental health of the high school students, that are going through all of this," Kotis said. "And a standardized test, or any kind of major test, is a stressful event."

Countdown to new leadership

With eight days left in Roper’s term, the BOG honored his time leading the UNC System. 

Ramsey credited Roper with the UNC System meeting 10 out of 12 of its goals for its five-year strategic plan, and for his leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"Dr. Roper's collaborative spirit pulled us all together," he said. "His calm, thoughtful demeanor helped us all think through our system-wide response rationally, and his expertise helped us all act quite quickly." 

Ramsey announced that UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz and Chairman of the Board of Trustees Richard Stevens have agreed to name a building or public space after Roper on campus. 

The board unanimously approved Hans' contract for a five-year employment as the next president of the UNC System Thursday. Hans' term officially begins Aug. 1.