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Editorial: A deep dive into the proposed Kenan-Flagler fee increase

DTH Photo Illustration. The Kenan-Flagler Business School has raised its fees.

Attending Kenan-Flagler Business School might soon cost (even more) money. Recently, the UNC Board of Trustees unanimously approved a 20 percent increase in the Program Enhancement Fee for both majors and minors in the undergraduate business program. 

The PEF is a surcharge on top of tuition for undergraduate students enrolled in the school.

This change would raise the fee from the current $1,000 to $1,200 per semester for majors, and $500 to $600 per semester for minors. The fee increase has not been fully approved, as it still needs to pass the Board of Governors come 2023. 

Since its implementation in 2018, the fee has gone toward growing student-facing staff and student support, including additional scholarships, study abroad programs and advising, according to Michael Penny, associate director of student engagement at Kenan-Flagler.

More than just a revenue stream

Our initial knee-jerk reaction was to oppose this cost increase. We assumed that, as much money as the University takes from students, it’s not in a position to impose an additional financial burden. If anything, it is the responsibility of public universities like UNC to make education more affordable and accessible – not less. 

But the fee increase might produce more positive outcomes than anticipated, even down to helping diversify the student body. While the cost increase will put some students in difficult financial positions and possibly deter concerned applicants, it could also open up the opportunity for more low-income candidates to attend the school.

Yes, a 20 percent increase on an already hefty price tag is not an easy burden to bear. Even so, only those better situated to pay a higher fee – those who already pay full tuition – will need to pay it.

Any student who qualifies for financial aid at UNC, including those who be impacted by the fee increase, would have their fee waived. So, coupled with Kenan-Flagler’s plan to expand its undergraduate business program, this could potentially mean greater accessibility for lower-income students to pursue business. 

How to make the increase worth it 

Navigating a drastic (and unpopular) price increase is complex, as Kenan-Flagler needs to balance being a competitive business school with being accessible to UNC students who apply. It also shines a light on how the school could better proceed with conversations around the PEF and supporting students. Here are our recommendations:

  • Communication. Kenan-Flagler needs to be transparent about how PEF is used, including addressing the ambiguity surrounding how the fees are being spent. When the PEF increase was proposed, many assumed it would be allocated to Kenan-Flagler’s new building. In reality, the fee is restricted to funding student-related experiences. Having a stronger line of communication will help students understand how they can benefit from resources made possible by the PEF, while also serving as an accountability measure for the University.
  • Engage with student voices. Leadership at Kenan-Flagler needs to continue to — and more effectively — engage with student feedback. The lower-than-expected turnout in the town hall meetings, tabling sessions and a survey on the PEF increase is symptomatic of a gap in the school's understanding of student interests. Closing this gap would allow Kenan-Flagler to be more in touch with the undergraduate student community and our needs, which is crucial given that there is leadership staff that is non-faculty and non-student-facing.
  • Increase accessibility. The undergraduate business program should allocate an appropriate amount of new funds to scholarship opportunities. It should also create more well-being DEI-driven opportunities, like identity-based spaces to support students in what can often be a hostile, competitive pre-professional environment. 

In short, minimize the PEF. The additional fee increase should be kept the same or even lowered, given that more students would be accepted into the undergraduate business program and can collectively offset costs. Limiting this financial burden will keep the program accessible.


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