An amendment dropped three historically black universities from a low tuition proposal in the Senate budget Thursday after an intense backlash from the schools’ supporters.
Sen. Tom Apodaca, the Hendersonville Republican who sponsored the measure, said his office had received a death threat Thursday morning.
The low tuition plan, which is part of the Senate budget bill, will now include only two UNC campuses – Western Carolina University and UNC Pembroke. At those schools, tuition would be set at $500 a semester for in-state students and $2,500 for out-of-state students, starting in 2018-19. The state will include money to offset the reduced tuition revenue at the two campuses, according to language in the provision.
Apodaca said he was surprised by the opposition from HBCU supporters. The amendment passed, 42-6, Thursday, removing Elizabeth City State University, Fayetteville State University and Winston-State University from the measure.
“We’ve heard quite a bit of talk, and a lot of anger, a lot of discussion,” he said. “It’s somewhat shocking to me and somewhat embarrassing.”
Several hundred alumni of historically black campuses held a rally at the legislature Wednesday. Though the original bill’s supporters had said it would provide North Carolina families with predictability and affordability at five campuses across the state, many HBCU loyalists viewed it as a threat to the schools’ very existence. They argued there was no way to guarantee that state money would be available in the future to compensate for the dramatically lower tuition.
Apodaca pointed to the 72 percent increase in college tuition in recent years and said the negative reaction was baffling to him.
The overwhelming, and I mean overwhelming, majority of feedback I’ve heard from students, alumni and faculty at our HBCUs was that they did not want reduced tuition, for various reasons. In my heart, I still feel it was the right thing to do.
Tom Apodaca, state senator
“I have the hardest time understanding the rationale behind this,” Apodaca said. “The overwhelming, and I mean overwhelming, majority of feedback I’ve heard from students, alumni and faculty at our HBCUs was that they did not want reduced tuition, for various reasons. In my heart, I still feel it was the right thing to do.”
Sen. Don Davis, a Greene County Democrat, said the tuition plan should have been developed with more input from the universities affected. Chancellors had not been consulted about the idea early in the process.
“The issue at hand is one of inclusion,” he said. “How do we bring people together … not at the 11th hour.”
Davis said supporters of Elizabeth City State University are rightfully suspicious after some lawmakers expressed support for closing the campus in recent years. “When you’ve gone through all of this, why wouldn’t you have a concern of ‘is the money going to be there in the future?’” he said.
Sen. Floyd McKissick, a Durham Democrat, agreed that the process was flawed but that the measure was not a nefarious plot to undermine historically black campuses – as some had suggested.
“I hope that one day somebody might look back at this as a missed opportunity,” he said.
Sen. Andrew Brock, a Mocksville Republican, thanked Apodaca for keeping Western Carolina in the plan. Both are WCU graduates.
He said parents are working several jobs to send their children to college.
“When we talk about feedback from administration, their worry about what would happen – they need to be focused on the students, focused on the families, of what they’re going through,” Brock said. “I think this is a great idea.”
Some expressed hope that a compromise could be reached as the House and Senate hash out budget differences in the weeks ahead. But for now, HBCUs are out of the proposal.
Partisan politics put a premature end to what could have been a promising change for universities, said Sen. Gladys Robinson, a Greensboro Democrat, an HBCU graduate and former member of the UNC Board of Governors.
She and others expressed hope that a compromise could be reached as the House and Senate hash out budget differences in the weeks ahead. But for now, HBCUs are out of the proposal.
Robinson said she recognizes the plight of some of the campuses that have struggled. Elizabeth City State, which has seen enrollment decline by half in five years’ time, needs help and marketing, she said.
“We have to do some things to sustain them,” she said. “Partisanship has kept us from bridging the divide this time. ... I am saddened at the fact that the opportunity at this point seems lost.”