Dear Commons Community,
North Carolina will carried out a college-affordability experiment that has drawn both praise and criticism for its ambition: $500 tuition per semester for in-state students. The experiment has been approved for funding starting in fall 2018. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education:
“At a time when the average published cost of in-state tuition and fees at four-year public colleges nationwide is nearing $10,000 annually, many see the college affordability measure, dubbed “NC Promise,” as a bold move. Others support the legislation’s stated purpose — keeping a lid on college costs and student debt — but remain skeptical that the legislature has the best interests of the university system at heart. In recent years, UNC leaders have clashed at times with conservative lawmakers keen on shaking up public higher education.
In May, Tom Apodaca, a Republican state senator who retired last month, introduced the bill. Initially it would have lowered tuition to $500 at five UNC campuses. That draft stirred widespread concern because it seemed to single out minority-serving institutions and included no language about additional state money to make up for lost tuition revenue. The loss of tens of millions of dollars could have led to financial turmoil at several universities that were already strapped for cash.
System officials say most of those concerns were mitigated in the final version, which was written into the state budget that Gov. Pat McCrory signed last month.
Starting in the fall of 2018, $500 in-state tuition will go into effect at three campuses — the predominantly white Western Carolina University, the historically black Elizabeth City State University, and the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, a historically American Indian institution — and the state will provide the system with up to $40 million each year to fill the revenue gap. Per-semester tuition for out-of-state students will drop to $2,500, from between $7,000 and $8,000. And new students at other UNC campuses will pay a fixed tuition rate if they graduate within four years.
Leaders of the affected campuses say that the tuition plan has many more pros — first and foremost, making college more affordable — than cons. “We three are ecstatic,” said Robin G. Cummings, Pembroke’s chancellor, of himself and his colleagues. The institutions are geographically spaced out across the state, and lawmakers who backed the bill touted the convenience of $500 public-college tuition within 150 miles for each state resident…
The actual cost of a semester at these campuses will not become $500.
The $500 figure does not cover non-tuition expenses like fees, room, and board. At Western Carolina, for instance, an academic year costs around $17,000 for undergraduate students living on campus with a meal plan. While tuition in the fall of 2018 will drop by about 75 percent from its current level, cost of attendance will remain around $14,000, said David O. Belcher, the chancellor, in an email.”
North Carolina is taking a step in the right direction to make college more affordable. It appears committed to the funding side of the new program. There will likely be logistical kinks to work out.