When the N.C. legislature approved dropping tuition at some UNC schools to $500 a semester last year, there were a lot of concerns – lost revenue, the perceived value of a degree, what it would mean for the schools’ reputations to suddenly and explicitly become “value” universities.
Two historically black colleges – including Winston-Salem State and Fayetteville State – opted out.
At the three universities that ultimately became part of the initial NC Promise tuition program – Elizabeth City State University, University of North Carolina at Pembroke and Western Carolina University – there are still concerns among some students, faculty, staff and even administrators.
But Dr. Robin Gary Cumming, chancellor of UNC-Pembroke, believes the plan – beginning in the fall of 2018 – is already attracting students and points toward things to come in the university system.
In a column for The Robesonian late last month, Cumming stated his case:
“We have a tremendous opportunity to advance our mission of access through the NC Promise Tuition Plan. Beginning in the fall 2018, NC Promise will significantly increase the affordability of college for UNCP students by reducing the cost of undergraduate tuition to $500 for in-state and $2,500 for out-of-state tuition per semester.
Coupled with some of the lowest fees and associated costs in the UNC system, the new plan will make a UNCP education one of the best values in North Carolina. All undergraduate students at UNCP are eligible for the new tuition plan, including part-time, online, distance education, transfer and international students.
Under NC Promise, in-state students will save approximately $10,400 in tuition over four years, and the savings for out-of-state students will total more than $40,000. That’s significant savings a new graduate could use toward a down payment for a house, launching a business, starting a family or continuing their education to obtain a master’s or doctoral degree.
Even though tuition rates will decrease, UNCP will provide the same high-quality education experience while shifting costs from the students to the state. This increased public investment honors the North Carolina Constitution, which calls for keeping tuition as “free as practicable.” Not only will NC Promise maintain our educational experience, increased enrollment will enable the university to offer even more programs to prepare students for in-demand professions across our region.
In addition to putting college within reach for more students, the reduced tuition will allow them to graduate with less debt. National statistics show there are more than 44 million borrowers with $1.3 trillion in student loan debt in the U.S. Although UNCP students borrow far less than the national average, too many are saddled with debt when they leave.
NC Promise will also support the UNC Board of Governors’ focus on increasing graduation rates. This important system-wide commitment was outlined in the recent UNC Strategic Plan and UNCP’s subsequent performance agreement I joined UNC President Margaret Spellings in signing. Given the under-served populations UNCP embraces, our students are presented with many obstacles to completing a degree. All too often for them, life gets in the way of their goal to earn a college degree. But NC Promise will go a long way toward ensuring financial concerns don’t force students to stop short of their dreams.”
The General Assembly set aside $51 million to offset tuition dollars lost at the schools. UNC President Margaret Spelling and N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore have both said they’d like to see the program expand, if it is successful. Much of the UNC Board of Governors feels the same way.
It remains to be seen whether they’ll have further buy-in from chancellors and campuses throughout the system.