Article IX, Section 9, of the N.C. Constitution reads, The General Assembly shall provide that the benefits of The University of North Carolina and other public institutions of higher education, as far as practicable, be extended to the people of the State free of expense. The General Assemblys commitment to this mandate is the reason North Carolina has always been a national leader in providing affordable higher education to its residents.
The states two flagship universities, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and N.C. State University, rank No. 1 and No. 4, respectively, on The Princeton Reviews list of Best Value Colleges. These research universities provide low-cost, high-value education while stimulating North Carolinas economy. N.C. State, for example, generates $1.7 billion in direct economic impact each year, and returns $8 into the economy for every $1 received in state funding.
Despite these staggering numbers, North Carolina is on a trend toward disinvestment in its higher education system. In the five-year period of 2008 to 2013, the average tuition rate at North Carolinas public colleges and universities rose 44 percent. Over the same period, the states per student spending levels fell by 13 percent, shifting an additional burden onto families and students across North Carolina. Our state will no longer be a leader in providing affordable higher education to its residents if we continue down this path.
As an N.C. State student and the son of a former UNC system professor, I recognize the positive impact the system has on North Carolina. Western Carolina University, for example, is home to over 10,000 students and is the largest employer in Jackson County. From Cullowhee to Elizabeth City, communities across North Carolina benefit from the contributions made to our state by the UNC system.
North Carolinas investment in higher education is a commitment to the long-term success of its people and economy. Ensuring this commitment requires North Carolinians to continue to prioritize affordable higher education. I encourage students, alumni and residents throughout the state to tell their elected officials, discuss in their communities and remember during elections the importance of affordable higher education in North Carolina. We boast the best public higher education system in the country because we take higher education seriously.
Investing in higher education in North Carolina is an issue larger than right vs. left, UNC vs. State, or Eastern vs. Western barbecue. It requires all North Carolinians to look beyond what makes us different and work together to protect the great asset that brings us all together: affordable, high quality, public education.
Rusty Mau is student body president of N.C. State University.