UNC President Tom Ross has recommended average in-state undergraduate tuition and fee increases of 8.8 percent systemwide for 2012-2013 and 4.2 percent for 2013-2014.
Under Ross' plan, released Wednesday, no campus would see an increase of more than 10 percent for next year, and the systemwide average would be smaller than the 9.3 percent increase enacted for the current academic year.
Ross recommended increases that were smaller than requests from trustees on seven of the 16 UNC campuses. He left intact the requests by nine other campuses that were already smaller than Ross' 10 percent threshold.
His proposal will come as a disappointment to campus leaders at N.C. State University and UNC-Chapel Hill, who argued that they needed larger increases to help recover from state budget cuts. For the two flagship campuses, Ross recommends increases of roughly $680 more per in-state student next year - a 9.8 percent increase at NCSU and 9.9 percent at UNC-CH. NCSU leaders wanted a 10.4 percent increase, while UNC-CH trustees wanted an 11.4 percent jump.
In paring down some of the larger requests, Ross said he wanted to strike a middle ground between affordability and the need for more revenue on campuses hit hard by cuts. Last year, UNC campuses saw a state reduction of $414 million.
"I believe that these recommendations balance the campuses' demonstrated need for increased resources with the limited ability of many students and families to sustain further tuition increases in this tough economy," Ross wrote in a memo to the UNC Board of Governors, which will consider his recommendations next month.
Ross' proposed tuition plan would generate $70 million after a 25-percent set-aside for financial aid. Ross said that would recoup just 17 percent of the current year's state cut.
Ross also resisted requests from campuses to embark on a five-year escalation in tuition. He said a two-year plan is a more prudent approach.
"A two-year plan would better enable families and students to plan and give our campuses an opportunity to stabilize for the future," his memo said. "I believe we should wait, however, to see what additional savings can be realized through efficiencies, consolidations and collaborations, and whether or not additional state resources become available before considering additional increases."
Any consideration of tuition changes must be made in the context of the state's constitutional mandate for free higher education "as far as practicable," Ross said.
"The guiding principle I followed in developing these recommendations was quite simple: balance our commitment to maintain the quality of education we offer with our constitutional and moral obligation to provide affordable access to the University - particularly for North Carolina students," he wrote.
In Tuesday's State of the Union address, President Barack Obama strongly urged higher education leaders to contain costs.
"So let me put colleges and universities on notice: If you can't stop tuition from going up, the funding you get from taxpayers will go down," Obama said, eliciting applause from members of Congress. "Higher education can't be a luxury; it is an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford."