Proposed UNC system tuition increases would go toward faculty raises

UNC campuses say they need to raise tuition to give their best faculty raises in a competitive market and to improve psychological counseling services for students.

The UNC Board of Governors will vote later this month on tuition and fees at public universities for the next two academic years. On Monday, the board’s budget and finance committee quizzed chancellors and other administrators about their requests for higher tuition.

In a four-year tuition plan approved last year, the board had said that increases in tuition and most fees should not exceed 5 percent. Most campuses have stuck to that guideline, but a few with special debt fees could go above that level.

If approved later this month, tuition and fees for in-state undergraduates would rise an average of 4.3 percent across the campuses in 2015-16 and 3.7 percent in 2016-17.

The money generated – about $44 million next year and about $47 million the following year – would largely go to faculty raises and academic support programs for students. And, for the first time, all UNC system students would be charged a $30 fee next year for safety improvements, including new funding to address sexual assault and pay increases for campus police.

The proposed rates for North Carolina resident undergraduates next academic year would climb 4.2 percent to $5,674 at N.C. Central University; 3.4 percent to $8,407 at N.C. State University, and 2.8 percent to $8,334 at UNC-Chapel Hill. The increases for in-state undergraduates in 2016-17 would be 2.2 percent at NCCU, 2.9 percent at NCSU and 2.8 percent at UNC-CH.

NCSU Provost Warwick Arden said the university wants to start a special fee for all engineering students – $500 for next year and $1,000 in 2016-17. The fee would generate $4.4 million next year and $8.8 million the following year.

“I can’t emphasize how important this is to keep moving our engineering program forward,” Arden said. “I believe at the moment we produce some of the best trained and most sought-after engineering graduates in the country. But this is a very, very dynamic field, and unless we’re willing to invest in infrastructure and student programs to enhance the competitiveness of our students and the readiness of our students, then we’re simply going to lose ground to some of the most aggressive programs in the country.”

Board member David Powers said the engineering fee made sense. “The high cost programs like that, and high demand programs, you’re going to have to look at ways to differentiate them,” Powers said.

Appalachian State University Chancellor Sheri Everts said 34 professors had left the campus in the last two years to other universities. In exit interviews, departing professors cited lack of expectation for annual merit raises in North Carolina, Everts said.

“These are faculty we don’t want to lose,” said Everts, whose campus has proposed a 4.4 percent tuition and fee increase for in-state undergraduates next year.

Rick Niswander, a vice chancellor at East Carolina University, said that because of a lack of consistent raises, his campus was beginning to see faculty leave for comparable pay at comparable universities.

“That is very, very troubling,” said Niswander, whose proposal included a 7.3 percent increase in tuition and all fees for next year’s North Carolina undergraduates.

UNC-CH Provost Jim Dean echoed the need to compensate faculty better and said his campus had taken an aggressive approach with competitive offers to keep faculty in the past year.

But several board members, including Champ Mitchell, asked for more documentation about how campuses would spend the money.

“You have given us no basis to make a decision on or to ask a single intelligent question about this,” Mitchell said to Dean. “Right now, if I had to vote, I’d vote against giving you any undergraduate resident increase.”