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Tuition2For years, the denizens of the think tanks funded by right-wing power broker Art Pope have been making two rather remarkable arguments with respect to higher education: 1) that too many North Carolinians go to college and 2) that tuition and fees should be much higher in order to place more of the cost of attendance directly on students and their families.

It’s essentially the Ebeneezer Scrooge, no-free-lunch, pick-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps  argument. Indeed, if you tilt your head and cup your ear you can almost hear a gaggle of grumpy old white guys sitting around and lamenting how today’s younger generation has no respect and doesn’t have to sacrifice like they did when they went to college.

All of this would be easy to dismiss as so much absurd, conservative blather except for the unfortunate fact that these people and their buddies are, for the time being, running the state. Hence the rapid increases in college fees and tuition in North Carolina in recent years and the disturbing moves to downsize the UNC system.

Fortunately, more and more people are catching on to what these folks are up to and are pushing back. The lead editorial in yesterday’s Greensboro News & Record did a good job of giving voice to the views of those who believe that widespread higher education is a necessity for any state that wants to thrive in the 21st Century. Here’s the N&R:

“Last year, a solidly Republican state launched the Tennessee Promise, which provides last-dollar scholarships for first-time students at community and technical colleges.

North Carolina, meanwhile, is moving in the opposite direction. It’s raising tuition for community colleges and may add significant surcharges decided on a campus-by-campus basis. The surcharge, up to 10 percent of tuition, would generate revenue strictly for needs on the individual campus where the money was raised.”

After highlighting the fact that many conservative states (besides Tennessee) are actually following President Obama’s urging by pushing to lower costs (and lamenting North Carolina’s move in the opposite direction) the editorial puts it this way:

“North Carolina should make it easier for students to attend community college, not more expensive.

The Tennessee Promise, when implemented last year, immediately boosted enrollment by 6 percent.

Other states, including Indiana, Missouri, Texas and Oklahoma, are considering similar plans….

Which makes it frustrating that North Carolina wants to shift more costs to the students, at both community college and state university campuses.

A 10 percent tuition surcharge would yield more than $2 million a year for Guilford Technical Community College, according to system estimates. The money could be well spent, providing better educational experiences. But putting more state resources into community colleges would be a wiser strategy.

The $2 billion bond proposal is a sound investment in a state that has fallen behind in building 21st century infrastructure. But human capital is lagging, too. Providing community college training at less cost to students, not more, could pay big dividends.

If North Carolina doesn’t, competing states will leave us behind.”

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Dr. Bill Friday, president emeritus of the UNC system, says North Carolina is at the point where it is violating the State Constitution, which states higher education should be offered as free as practicable.

In a weekend radio interview on News & Views with Chris Fitzsimon, Dr. Friday said it is time to draw a line on tuition hikes.

The 91-year-old, who served as the first president of the expanded UNC system, says continued cuts by the legislature have seriously hurt the institution.

At the same time, the trend of offsetting those cuts by raising tuition and fees has only discouraged young people from seeking higher education:

“One out of three families in North Carolina don’t gross $35,000 a year…the tragedy is these families don’t even apply anymore, see they have no resource base to work from,” explained Friday.

Friday believes the state’s lawmakers should have the courage to close billions of dollars in exemptions and tax loopholes rather than “whacking at” the budgets of North Carolina’s public schools and universities.

To hear a portion of Dr. Friday’s interview, click below. To hear the full segment (including this week’s other  interviews with Bob Etheridge and author Jeff Clements)  visit the Radio Interview section of the N.C. Policy Watch website.

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