Public universities in the Triangle are considering tuition and fee increases this week that will likely add hundreds of dollars to what students will pay in the 2011-12 school year.
Decisions made at UNC-Chapel Hill, N.C. State and N.C. Central universities this week are early steps in a long process that will conclude when a state budget is approved next year.
That adds a layer of uncertainty, because campus and system leaders say they're not sure what to expect from the legislature after Republican majorities were elected in the state House and Senate.
"The climate in the legislature has changed," said Glenn Adams, chairman of the NCCU board of trustees. "We're going to have to do more with less and be much more efficient."
The chief concern is the fate of revenue derived fromtuition increases.
Campus leaders make an annual plea to retain that money for financial aid, faculty salaries and other uses. But some legislators prefer that tuition revenue go to the state's General Fund.
State Sen. Phil Berger, an Eden Republican poised to lead the state Senate in January, said campuses should decide on increases and reap the benefits.
"If we're talking about increasing tuition, that should stay on campuses rather than going into the General Fund," Berger said Tuesday. "I don't think you should be using tuition as a tax substitute."
At NCCU in Durham, campus leaders are considering a plan to raise tuition and fees about $240. The total cost would rise about $400, however, because NCCU is also considering increases to its housing rates, which vary depending on residence hall.
UNC-Chapel Hill officials expect to raise tuition $313 for in-state undergraduates. That's a 6.5 percent increase, the maximum allowed by the UNC system. Fees would rise an additional $46.22.
And at NCSU, leaders are considering a $300 tuition increase for in-state students, along with $102.30 in new student fees.
NCCU officials began considering the issue Tuesday. UNC-CH and NCSU trustees will discuss it this week.
All are balancing the desire to keep costs low with the importance of finding revenue. Across North Carolina, public university leaders see tuition increases as an increasingly important source of funds as budget cuts of 5 percent or 10 percent appear possible. At UNC-CH, the 6.5 percent tuition increase being considered this week would produce more than $15 million.
At NCCU, Chancellor Charlie Nelms said students understand the need for higher tuition.
"The students said to me, 'Chancellor, we don't want low-tuition, poor-quality anything,' " Nelms told his trustee board Tuesday. "My view is quality has some price."
Although the rate increases would hit students in the pocketbook, student leaders generally have endorsed the proposed increases - reluctantly.
Marcus Quickley, a senior at NCCU, said he has seen what budget cuts have done on his campus in many small ways, such as the disappearance of paper tests and assignments. Now, they are all online.
Paying more is worth it if the quality of the product is maintained, Quickley said.
"It seems like a big number, but $400 [tuition increase] in comparison to how your education will benefit you?" he said. "It won't be that big a deal."
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