Tuition bill may surprise students

Aid offices rush to help

Staff WriterJuly 22, 2010 

The state's public university students will soon receive larger-than-expected tuition bills for the coming school year, thanks to two rate increases approved in the past six months.

Now, financial aid officers are scrambling to find enough scholarship and grant funding to cover the extra need. They say the neediest students will likely be covered through an influx in aid that will come with the tuition increases.

But students who don't qualify for aid will simply pay more, up to $950 more for the coming year. And since the larger tuition increase was instituted just last week, long after most students left campus for the summer, some may not be expecting it.

"I don't think students understand that the increases just happened," said Atul Bhula, a graduate student at Appalachian State University and sole student member of the UNC system's Board of Governors. "When the new tuition bill comes in, that's when they'll start asking questions."

It isn't yet clear whether the increases will prompt any students to drop out. In financial aid offices across the UNC system this week, workers have frantically cobbled together higher grant rewards for needy students.

"We do know it could impact a student's decision to enroll," said Julie Rice Mallette, N.C. State's associate vice provost and director of scholarships and financial aid. "Getting a small increase in aid may not be enough to let a person enroll."

At NCSU, where 45 percent of undergraduates receive at least some need-based student aid, tuition and fees for in-state students will be $6,393 in 2010-11. That's significantly higher than it was a year ago, thanks in large part to a $150 tuition increase in February and the supplemental increase of $750 approved last week.

At N.C. Central University in Durham, where nearly 90 percent of students receive some financial aid, it isn't yet clear whether aid revenue will fully mitigate the tuition hike. Tuition there goes up $548 this fall.

"It's really hard to gauge, and this affects all students, not just those getting financial aid," said Cynthia Grant, associate director of scholarships and student aid. "We know students will be looking for help."

Public university leaders have long fought to keep college costs down and until recently wouldn't have considered double-digit tuition increases. But this year, there is no other revenue source available to pay instructors and avoid cutting class sections and other educational resources, officials say.

The supplemental tuition increase approved by UNC President Erskine Bowles last week came thanks to a special provision in the recently approved state budget, an attempt by legislators to mitigate $70 million in cuts to the university system. That provision directed campuses to use 20 percent of revenue gleaned from tuition increases for financial aid.

At UNC-Chapel Hill, students will pay $950 more in tuition next year. There, the university has enough aid revenue to cover the extra need created by the tuition increases, said Shirley Ort, director of the student aid office.

But students at UNC-CH, NCSU and three other public universities face another new cost as well.

Add in health insurance

The UNC system starts a mandatory health insurance program this fall. Students at all public universities must have health insurance either privately or through a university plan; though 11 campuses previously required health insurance, five - UNC-CH, NCSU, Appalachian State, East Carolina and UNC Wilmington - did not. Now, students on those campuses must be insured as well. At UNC-CH, the added cost is $724 annually, Ort said.

That health insurance premium is factored into a student's financial aid equation, which means that students who qualify will have it covered. But for those who don't, it's another new expense.

"I think it's really going to hurt the students in that middle [class], paying the extra burden without the extra financial aid," said Bhula, the student leader.

eric.ferreri@newsobserver.com or 919-932-2008

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