Four-Year Tuition Freeze Takes Effect (But It’s Not for Everyone)

Undergraduates and their parents, for whom each new year has presented the angst of a possible tuition increase, have a new sense of security: The rate students pay as incoming freshmen will be frozen for four years.

The security blanket is limited, however. It covers North Carolina residents only. It does not affect out-of-state students or graduate and professional students.

The UNC System has begun implementing a law, enacted by the N.C. General Assembly last summer as part of the state budget, that is designed with two main goals: remove unpredictability and incent students to complete college in four years. Going forward, those who take longer than four years without extenuating circumstances face financial penalties.

Retroactive to the beginning of the fall 2016 semester, tuition rates at Carolina and all UNC System institutions are now fixed for eight consecutive semesters for all resident bachelor’s degree-seeking freshmen. Officials said rates for other currently enrolled resident undergraduates and eligible transfer students will be fixed for an appropriate number of consecutive semesters.

Continuous enrollment is defined as a student being consecutively enrolled at a UNC System university in fall and spring semesters in courses creditable toward a baccalaureate degree. A break in enrollment occurs when a student is not enrolled during two consecutive semesters at the same institution. Summer school attendance is not required to maintain continuity.

The law recognizes that some academic programs require five years; those students’ rates will be frozen for that span.

Students who take more than 140 credit hours to complete a degree in a four-year program — or more than 110 percent of the credit hours necessary for a four- or five-year program — will be subject to a 50 percent tuition surcharge for credit hours in excess of 140.

A student who has an interrupted continuous enrollment can apply for a waiver under several conditions, including military service obligation, serious medical debilitation or disability.

Transfer students will receive fixed tuition for a prorated time period, based on credits accumulated at the transferring institutions.

Several other categories of students are not eligible for the freeze: continuing education students; students currently enrolled in a cooperative innovative high school or early college, consortium or dual-enrollment program; students seeking a second degree; readmitted students who are not granted an appeal; students who are not seeking a degree; and those in online programs.

The freeze also includes a 3 percent per year cap on student fees, using the 2016-17 fee schedule as a baseline. That freeze begins with the 2017-18 academic year.

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