After three years of heavy state budget cutting, which culminated in a loss of about $100 million to the University last year, students and their families are bracing for significant tuition increases.
The Board of Trustees later this week will consider asking the UNC System for a one-time tuition adjustment that would add $2,800 to the bills of N.C. resident undergraduates incrementally over the next five years — a 55 percent increase from the current $5,128 annual rate at the end of the five years. And that could go up even more; the one-time adjustment, if approved, would be in addition to annual hikes, currently capped by the system at 6.5 percent a year.
Under the proposal, tuition would go up for the 2012-13 school year by $800; the proposed amounts in the subsequent four years have not been determined.
The $2,800 represents what would be needed to raise Carolina to the top of the bottom quartile of tuition currently charged by 10 public peer institutions. UNC’s tuition now is lower than all but one of those peers.
Under the proposal of the campus tuition advisory task force, approved by a 9-5 vote and which will become the recommendation of Chancellor Holden Thorp ’86 to the trustees, out-of-state residents would face a 6.5 percent increase for 2012-13.
Tuition plus $930 in fees would total $7,798 for undergraduate residents and $27,505 for out-of-state undergraduates. The proposal calls for a $10 reduction in fees for next year. Whatever the trustees decide will go to the system’s Board of Governors for action in January.
“No one wants to have a tuition increase,” said task force member Sandra Hoeflich, associate dean for interdisciplinary education, fellowships and communication in the Graduate School. “We’re in a rock and a hard place. If you look at the intent, what we want to do is ensure quality of the University.
“If we’re not able to provide salary increases for faculty or stipend increases for graduate students, students who would prefer to come here are put in the position where they may have to go where they’ll be able to live easier. We don’t want to be in that situation.”
An alternative proposal put forth by Student Body President Mary Cooper would increase tuition 6.4 percent for in-state students and 4 percent for nonresidents. It would include an additional 5 percent hike for 2012-13 incoming freshmen — part of a philosophy that officials should try to minimize increases for students already enrolled. That proposal could get consideration from the trustees also.
The BOG has invited the state’s campuses “with significant unfunded needs” to make a case for a one-time exception that would exceed the annual cap. In an October letter, the BOG said it would consider comparisons with peer universities in determining whether to allow a campus the one-time adjustment. The BOG is expected to make decisions on individual cases in January.
Thorp and Provost Bruce Carney have said repeatedly that they believe UNC’s status as a bargain relative to its peers gives it significant leeway to use a tuition increase to offset some of the state funding cuts.
Of the University’s four sources of funding — government contracts, state appropriations, private gifts and tuition — tuition is the only one in which UNC has a decision-making role. For the other three, its role is essentially to make cases for being entrusted with money and to demonstrate how it would use that money to the betterment of North Carolina and the world.
“We do not see alternatives [to an increase] other than lowering the quality,” Carney said. “If the state can’t help us for at least a few years, our practical approach has been a combination of tuition and private fundraising and to try and get more support from the state.”
Pressing needs for an increase, according to a report to the Board of Trustees in October, include salary increases for faculty and stipend increases for graduate students; hiring of new faculty, teaching assistants and advisers; library funding; classroom technology improvements; and the means to accelerate diversification of the faculty.