NC families and students shoulder more of college cost as state support for higher education wanes

At a time when an increasing number of jobs in the state are expected to require some level of postsecondary training, North Carolina families and students have to shoulder more and more of the cost of a college education.

A report released today by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities highlights that state spending per student for higher education in North Carolina is 25 percent below pre-recession levels when adjusted for inflation. Meanwhile, average tuition at North Carolina’s public, four-year colleges increased by more than 34 percent during this time period.

Some of the outcomes from these budget cuts have been well-documented on North Carolina’s campuses. For example, in the 2014 academic year, state funding cuts led NC State to eliminate 187 full-time equivalent positions and 27 positions from its library system, the report highlights. UNC-Chapel Hill has eliminated 493 positions, cut 16,000 course seats, increased class sizes, cut four of its seven centrally supported computer labs, and eliminated two distance education centers.

In the years ahead, North Carolina’s public colleges and universities will likely face even greater challenges as a result of the tax plan passed by state leaders last year. The tax plan significantly reduces revenue by more than $2.4 billion over the next five years. The initial round of tax rate reductions went into effect this year and further tax rate reductions within the tax plan are set to go into effect next year. 

The foregone revenue from these tax rate cuts could have been reinvested and helped make a college education more affordable for North Carolina families and students, increased funding for research, and ensured that we retain and recruit high-quality faculty. Instead the tax plan passed last year will largely benefit the wealthiest income earners and profitable corporations, is unlikely to boost the state’s economy, and creates a self-imposed budget challenge in the years ahead.

Evidence shows that states with higher levels of educational attainment in their workforce have greater levels of productivity. Yet, rather than boost investment in our public university system, one of the public institutions that make our state great, our legislature has chosen a path that will make the disturbing trends in this newly released report even worse for families, students, and the state of North Carolina in the years ahead.

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