Carolina students have long had a habit of driving to campus after 5 p.m. to get to the libraries and other places, parking for free in spaces that are limited to permit holders during business hours.
Now they’ll be paying for it. UNC’s trustees on Thursday approved a $10.50 increase in student fees to cover that parking privilege — all will pay it starting next fall except freshmen, who aren’t supposed to have vehicles on campus.
The extra fee is intended to offset rising transit and parking costs, and it represented something of a bittersweet compromise between student leaders and University officials.
The trustees also boosted tuition for all graduate students next fall by $350, subject to the approval of the UNC System Board of Governors. The revenue is intended to help fund financial aid and faculty retention.
As expected, following the recommendation of System President Thomas Ross ’75 (JD) for all campuses, in-state tuition will not rise for 2014-15. But at the behest of the N.C. General Assembly — also expected — out-of-state students will pay 12.3 percent ($3,469) more.
The parking fee is an amendment to a Department of Public Safety proposal that students who want to park on campus after hours would buy a $227 permit each year. Students’ objections moved the trustees to spread the cost across the student body.
Student body President Christy Lambden described the situation as a choice between two unpalatable options, but he said the across-the-board fee ultimately seemed more appropriate.
“I’m disappointed … that the fee was even necessary,” he said.
Fee increases were proposed as part of a five-year parking strategy. The public safety department’s annual expenses are projected to grow in part because of inflation but also due to debt incurred from the expansion of a parking deck and the addition of visitor spaces. “We have to look at revenue-generating options,” said Randy Young, spokesman for the public safety department.
But Lambden said he disagrees with the logic behind asking students to pay for a larger share of the transit and parking system because they are not seeing tangible service enhancements. While the fee increase is not as big as tuition increases in recent years, he said many students already are struggling.
“Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve had a number of students come to me and say they are now having to graduate in December rather than in May because they can’t afford to come back to Carolina next year,” he said. “Our student population is hurting.” The student body president serves as a nonvoting trustee.
UNC officials also sounded alarms about the tuition increase for out-of-state students, saying it will undermine Carolina’s ability to attract quality applicants and meet students’ financial needs.
None of the additional revenue generated by the increase — about $12.1 million — will come back to Carolina. Instead, it will go into the state’s general fund, said Phil Asbury, UNC’s deputy director for scholarships and student aid.
The University has estimated that the tuition increase necessitates an additional $4.6 million set-aside for financial aid, Asbury said. UNC officials have been discussing ways to get that money but have not found a solution.
“There’s no other source to pull from that would replace those funds right now,” Asbury said. “As of this moment in time, we don’t know what the impact might be.”
Some officials expressed fears that the tuition increase — which brings the total bill, including fees, for out-of-state students to $33,614 a year — would cause UNC to change its need-blind admissions policy and start considering applicants’ ability to pay tuition when deciding whether to admit them.
“If we’re not able to raise that money or repeal the 12.3 percent increase or at least get that money returning to our campus, we don’t have any other alternative,” Lambden said. “And that is something that goes against a lot of the principles at Carolina.”
As the BOG hammers out a plan to guide tuition setting over the next four years, one proposal floated recently would limit annual tuition and fee increases to 5 percent but allow wiggle room should state appropriations decline.
The plan that UNC currently operates under caps tuition and fee increases at 6.5 percent.
The proposal rolled out in November would limit annual tuition increases to 5 percent for both resident undergraduate and graduate students. It places the same cap on fees for athletics, health services, student activity and education and technology. But it also would allow adjustments to offset significant changes in state appropriations.
The new plan would be in effect from 2015-16 through 2018-19. The BOG is expected to vote on a long-term plan early next year.
— Brian Freskos