Effort to Mandate Out-of-State Admissions Cap Stalls

An attempt in the N.C. General Assembly to mandate that UNC System campuses enroll no more than 18 percent of students from out of state stalled in the N.C. House in mid-June when a bill to write the current cap into law was unanimously voted back to committee.

The debate about the appropriate mix of in-state and out-of-state students has been a long one, and it is likely to continue. The admissions cap is now set by the UNC System Board of Governors, which last fall considered changing it to 22 percent. Widespread opposition was heard, and the board tabled that proposal, but the plan attracted the attention of some state lawmakers who worried that raising the cap would undermine the University’s mission to educate North Carolinians.

On June 8, the House education committee approved a proposal to consider a bill by Rep. Alex Warner, D-Cumberland, that would limit the enrollment of out-of-state students to 18 percent at 14 of the 16 UNC System institutions. (The N.C. School of the Arts and the engineering program at N.C. A&T University would be exempt.)

The bill likely will emerge from committee as a resolution requesting the Board of Governors send the General Assembly yearly percentages and justification for exceeding the cap.

“We want to have diversity,” Warner said. “What we don’t want is to expand the number of out-of-state students at the expense of North Carolina residents.”

Some BOG members contend that making the cap into law would restrict their flexibility and harm the system. Out-of-state applicants tend to have higher average grades and test scores than in-state students, and some board members assert the nonresidents are an economic asset to the state because of the possibility they will stay after graduation.

“Capturing economic capital – that is as important an economic development tool as tax cuts,” said Brad Wilson, chair of the UNC System Board of Governors.

“The question the board faced last time is whether a hard, bright line of 18 percent serves the state well,” he said. “And there are two examples where the BOG decided it did not. Under the proposed bill, the exceptions like the ones N.C. A&T and NCSA enjoy couldn’t happen without legislative action.”

Nonresident students pay $12,000 more a year to attend UNC than residents, and some opponents say the cap increase may be a way to generate revenue during lean times. Wilson said the discussion about raising the cap arose from educational, not economic, concerns.

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