The UNC System Board of Governors task force on pricing, flexibility and affordability met Thursday to address tuition and fees among UNC System universities, such as the cost of distanced education.
“The goal of this task force is to examine how tuition and fees are currently structured in our system,” Chairperson J. Alex Mitchell, a member of the BOG, said. “To determine the strengths and weaknesses of that structure and identify opportunities to change the structure to better serve the interest of our students, taxpayers and our universities.”
The task force was primarily focused on creating a comprehensive model for tuition and fees and to talk through how these prices impact students, their families and the entire state of North Carolina.
A member of the task force said the goals of the group include affordability, efficiency and student success.
“I believe this task force can give our campus leaders more flexibility to budget and plan,” UNC-system President Peter Hans said. “Give students and parents more transparency about costs and more options for how they want to participate in campus life and give lawmakers and taxpayers more clarity about how we are managing costs.”
The members present considered the cost of tuition and fees for in-person credits versus distanced education, undergraduate in-state and out-of-state tuition and the impact of tuition and fees on state appropriations.
“Tuition supports the general provision of education on a campus,” Jonathan Pruitt, the UNC System’s chief operating officer, said. “Tuition revenues can be used for faculty and certain staff salaries, academic support, students’ services, libraries and other critical needs. As you think about the uses of tuition, it's important to understand that tuition and state appropriation work hand in glove to finance the teaching mission of the university.”
Pruitt explained the present model for tuition adjustments for distanced education. The newly distanced learning credit hour rate is created by dividing the full-time credit hour rate that an on-campus student pays by 29.6.
“An important part of the work that this task force is going to talk about is that in today's time, does it make sense to continue to have this differentiation for instruction that counts as credit towards a degree whether you're taking it online, or face to face?” Pruitt said. “It's further complicated in distance education because we don't consistently charge student fees the same way across the system for distance education students.”
The term "distanced learning" is an issue Pruitt said needs clarity, as those living on campus but doing classes remotely fall in-between.
Pruitt said those living on campus taking face-to-face classes will be charged student fees. But those learning remotely off campus only pay education and technology, campus security and association of student government fees.
Pruitt also said the group should consider the relationship between tuition increases and the number of out-of-state students.
“This relationship is important as you start to think about non-resident students, and how, if an institution raises tuition on out-of-state students, their state appropriation will decline,” Pruitt said. “There are incentives that are important to understand there with regard to how aggressive institutions might want to be with regard to out-of-state-pricing, and also the numbers of out-of-state students that they may want to enroll.”
Pruitt said professional schools differ in tuition pricing because many of the graduate schools have different costs per program.
“Things like medical schools, dentistry, engineering and MBA programs where the cost to deliver the program both in terms of the labor costs, the faculty salaries for those particular types of faculty and everything that goes around the instruction is much more expensive,” Pruitt said.
Hans said due to the pandemic, the group has important choices to make. Hans said these choices should meet the needs of students.
“Our responsibility is to make sure those choices are driven by a real sense of mission, a realistic ordering of priorities,” Hans said. “I look forward to working with Chair Mitchell and the rest of this group to ensure our approach to tuition and fees meets the needs of students and strengthens our institutions.”
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