UNCNC Policy Watch reporter Sarah Ovaska is on the scene in Charlotte today so be sure to follow her tweets at @SarahOvaska as the UNC Board of Governors takes up multiple major controversies. Meanwhile, if you’d like to get a better handle on what the board ought to be doing today, be sure to read these two pieces:

#1 is NC Council of Churches contributor Steve Ford’s excellent essay which was posted on the main Policy Watch site on Wednesday: “UNC Board of Governors should reject recommendation to close poverty center.” To quote:

“The Board of Governors committee that now calls for abolishing the poverty center may have done its perceived bidding. The full board, however, would do well to acknowledge the reality that Gene Nichol as a tenured law professor won’t easily be silenced. The board’s wise play would be to show some healthy independence from legislative pressure and to extend the center’s lease on life, in full recognition of how it helps the university system carry out its public service mission.”

#2 is the lead editorial in today’s Charlotte Observer: “Tough times for UNC system.” As the Observer rightfully notes: Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

This year’s Super Bowl Sunday shed new light on the for-profit college industry after advocates took to twitter to share the latest disturbing facts about the industry’s practices. The Super Bowl was held in the University of Phoenix Stadium, which is named for the largest for-profit college in the country. The university agreed to pay more than $150 million over 20 years for the naming rights on the new stadium in 2006.

In the past year, greater scrutiny of for-profit colleges, those that are managed by companies accountable to shareholders and, or publicly traded, has led to a series of legal actions and rising concern from policymakers about the role of these institutions in a context in which post-secondary attainment is the path to the middle class.

The problems with for-profit colleges are many. First, they tend to cost students at least three and half times as much as the same education at a community college. Second, their students are more likely to leave a program without a degree but with a significant level of debt. Leading to the next issue that default rates are far higher among students who attended for-profit institutions relative to their share of the total population: for-profit students represent 12 percent of all enrolled and 44 percent of those who default on their student loans.

Now, new data secured by the Center for Investigative Reporting shows that taxpayers are subsidizing the for-profit college industry to the tune of $9.5 billion a year. This is because the majority of for-profit institutions rely on public funds through Pell Grants, Stafford loans and various military tuition assistance programs to fund their operations. In fact, the analysis finds that more than 90 percent of these institutions’ revenue is from public funds. Read More


The University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors pushed out the head of the state’s university system on Friday, sparking a search for a new leader of the 17-campus system.

Tom Ross, who had served as president since 2011, will remain in the president’s role until January 2016, while a national search is underway for his successor.


UNC President Tom Ross

Precise reasons for his announced departure weren’t articulated Friday, other than statements from UNC Board of Governors Chair John Fennebresque about the board’s general desire for a transition to a new leader.

The UNC Board of Governors met for close to two hours in closed session before announcing the changes.

“The board felt like at the appropriate time there should be a transition to a new president,” Fennebresque said, in comments to reporters.

Fennebresque also disputed media reports that Ross’ age was a factor. Ross is 64, and prior UNC system presidents had left their positions at 65. Ross said he was interested in working past that, and had hoped to continue in the job leading the public university system.

“I love it and I would love to be here forever,” Ross said.

Ross’ new terms of employment with the university system includes a salary of $600,000 for the next year, a tenured position at the UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Government and $300,000 for a year to conduct research following his expected 2016 departure from the president’s office.

Conversations about Ross’ termination only began this week, Ross said, and he wasn’t made aware of any single event or issue that turned the Board of Governors against him.

Fennebresque went to lengths at a press conference with reporters to emphasize that Ross had been a strong leader that had the support of the board of governors, despite Friday’s announcement that the board wanted to part ways.

“This board believes Tom Ross has been a wonderful president,” Fennebresque told reporters Friday after the announcement about Ross. “Fantastic work ethic, perfect integrity.”

Ross’ departure was announced Friday after months of speculation about his future after his relationship with the UNC Board of Governors became more fraught.

Ross came to the UNC system after serving as the president of the private Davidson College. He previously had worked as a judge, the head of the state’s administrative office for the courts, and the executive director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, a Winston-Salem based group that funds several progressive nonprofits in the state. (Note: the N.C. Justice Center, which N.C. Policy Watch is a part of, receives annual funding from ZSR.)

He led the university through a period of rapid change, and significant budget cuts. The university system received more than $400 million worth of cuts in 2011,

Read More


tom-rossThe UNC Board of Governors is expected to end its relationship Friday with Tom Ross, the system president for the last four years.

UPDATE: 12 p.m.: The UNC Board of Governors voted Friday to keep UNC President Tom Ross until January 2016, and begin a national search for his successor.

The new employment agreement will pay Ross a $600,000 salary over the next year, and gives him a tenured position at the Chapel Hill-based School of Government upon his retirement. He will also be paid $300,000 for a year of research leave following his exit from the presidency office.

The decision came after two hours of closed session, and had only one dissenter, Marty Kotis. Kotis said he was objecting because of concerns about the timing and process surrounding Ross’ employment.

“The Board believes President Ross as served with distinction, that his performance has been exemplary, and that he has devoted his full energy, intellect and passion to fulfilling the duties and responsibilities of the office,” according to a joint statement from Ross and the Board of Governors. “The board respects President Ross and greatly appreciates his service to the University and to the State of North Carolina.”

Joint Statement of UNC Board of Governors  and President Tom Ross

Joint Statement of UNC Board of Governors and President Tom Ross


Ross, an attorney and former judge who came to the university in 2011 after leading the private Davidson College, led the university system during a period of massive budget cuts, including $441 million in cuts handed to the schools between 2011 and 2013.

In addition to his higher education work, Ross has also served as a judge, the head of the N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts and head of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation in Winston-Salem.

His future with the system had been uncertain as the increasingly conservative members of the board expressed frustrations with the UNC system and Ross’ leadership.

Both WRAL and the News & Observer are also reporting Ross’ departure, citing anonymous sources. He is expected to stay on through January 2016. He is 64 and, though most UNC presidents have left the position at 65, Ross was not interested in leaving, according to the News & Observer’s Jane Stancill.

Terms of the President's Employment Contract as approved by the Board of Governors

Terms of the President’s Employment Contract as approved by the Board of Governors

Ross is expected to speak during Friday’s meeting, where Gov. Pat McCrory is also on hand to address the Board of Governors.

When asked about Ross’ future with the UNC system before the start of Friday’s meeting, Chairman John Fennebresque brushed aside questions from N.C. Policy Watch.

“I don’t want to talk to reporters,” he said.

UPDATE, 10 a.m.: No official statements have been made about Ross’ employment. The UNC Board of Governors, after hearing from Gov. Pat McCrory earlier this morning, went into closed session at 9:45 a.m.

N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat who has announced his intentions to run for governor in 2016, released this statement about Ross’ expected departure. His spokeswoman said Cooper has spoken with Ross about the situation.

I’m deeply concerned that the forcing out of President Ross is another blow to higher education in North Carolina at a time when we need universities to lead in innovation and critical thinking,” Cooper said, according to a written statement. “He has led the University system through difficult times, striving to give students the skills they need for tomorrow’s jobs.”

What do you think about this development? Leave your comments below.


All 16 campuses in the North Carolina’s university system want to raise tuition and fees over the next two years.

The combined increases for tuition and fees, if approved, would range from 2 to 7 percent increases for in-state students, and up to 6 percent for out-of-state students for the school year beginning this fall. Additional increases are also being proposed for 2016-17.

At the top end of the scale, the UNC School of the Arts wants to charge students $8,499 and  N.C. State University would like to charge in-state students $8,407 in 2015-16. On the lower end, Elizabeth City State University asked for increases that would bring tuition and fees to $4,657.

A finance and budget committee of the UNC Board of Governors members heard about the requested increases on Thursday. The full 32-member board, all of whom were appointed by Republican state leaders, will meet once more to discuss the tuition increases before a Feb. 27 vote on the increases.

The figures looked at Thursday did not include room and board estimates.

North Carolina’s university tuition rates continue to be lower than what in-state tuition costs at many of its peers, according to information presented at the meeting by university system staff.

But the state also is obligated through the state Constitutions to have higher education costs “as far as practicable, be extended to the people of the State free of expense.”

With significant cuts to the UNC system during the Recession (including $414 million for the 2011-13 biennium), students and their parents are paying a higher share of their education costs while levels of state support has dropped, according to a 2013 report by non-partisan legislative staff.

The report found that students paid $699 more for their education in 2013 than they did in 2007, while state support has dropped by $2,516 during that same time period.

Read More