CHAPEL HILL — A public university education in North Carolina just got considerably more expensive.
UNC system President Erskine Bowles has signed off on tuition increases for the coming academic year, an attempt to mitigate budget cuts recently imposed by the General Assembly.
What it means: Students at UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State University will pay $750 more in tuition in 2010-11, while N.C. Central University students will pay an additional $435.
The increases are far larger than is customary in a state that has long treasured the notion of an affordable education. At UNC-CH, for example, this year's $4,066 tuition for in-state undergraduates will rise 18 percent.
Bowles presented the increases to the UNC system's Board of Governors on Tuesday.
"This may be the best of some bad options," said Hannah Gage, chairwoman of the board. "Nobody wants to do this on the backs of students. But the reality is clear."
The new tuition increases come on top of hikes of up to $200 in 2010-11 that had already been enacted. Those increases varied by campus.
Student leaders say they understand the need for extra revenue, but some expect some sticker shock.
"The number is big, there's no doubting it," said Hogan Medlin, student body president at UNC-CH. "There's going to absolutely have to be a campaign to explain it, not only just to students but to parents. Families will be at a loss about this."
Losing $70 million
The state budget approved two weeks ago includes a $70 million cut in the university system's budget, which will be spread among the 16 college campuses and the N.C. School of Science and Math, a residential high school. The budget also allowed campuses to increase tuition by as much as $750 to mitigate the effects of the cuts.
UNC-CH and NCSU are the two largest campuses and received the biggest cuts - nearly $20 million each. Bowles gave the two campuses the option of enacting the full $750 tuition increase, and each chose to do so.
The UNC School of the Arts was the only other campus allowed to hit the $750 limit.
NCCU could have increased its rates by as much as $532, but chose only a $435 hike, figuring anything larger would hurt the institution's ability to recruit good students, Bowles said.
Twenty percent of revenue raised is to be used for financial aid.
University officials say that even with these new increases, the state's public universities remain a bargain. Tuition at all public universities will remain in the lowest quarter when compared to their public peer institutions nationwide.
In the last three years, the UNC system has cut $575 million in spending and eliminated more than 900 positions. Now, campus officials say, tuition hikes are the only way to avoid direct cuts to academics, including instructor layoffs and the elimination of course sections.
Campuses were given the option of phasing in the tuition hike over the next two years, but most chose to do it in 2010-11, citing the urgent need for as much new revenue as possible.
UNC-CH and NCSU still have additional cuts to make.
"N.C. State is still going to have to eat almost $3 million," Bowles said. "And Chapel Hill is going to have to eat almost $4 million."
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