Education

NC residents are within 150 miles of $500 tuition

Jay Gonzalez, left, and Michael Atkins study together for the bar exam at the Hunt Library at N.C. State University on Wednesday, June 29, 2016 in Raleigh.
Jay Gonzalez, left, and Michael Atkins study together for the bar exam at the Hunt Library at N.C. State University on Wednesday, June 29, 2016 in Raleigh. rwillett@newsobserver.com

One of the more controversial aspects of the N.C. Promise Tuition Plan was singling out three universities for a fixed tuition rate of $500 per semester for North Carolina residents and $2,500 for nonresidents – a steep discount over their planned tuition rates.

Critics said that slashing tuition could damage a university’s identity and academic integrity.

But Senate leader Phil Berger, an Eden Republican, said the goal was to ensure “any citizen of the state was within 150 miles of a campus that offered low tuition.”

The plan originally included Western Carolina University, UNC-Pembroke and the state’s three historically black colleges and universities – Elizabeth City State, Winston-Salem State and Fayetteville State. After their supporters complained, all three HBCUs were removed from the bill. Elizabeth City State was eventually added back.

Elizabeth City State Chancellor Thomas Conway was not available for an interview but in a statement, said: “With the single exception of the $500 tuition rate, all of the recommendations made by the UNC System in collaboration with the chancellors of the schools named in the bill have been incorporated into the legislation, and I believe the bill is better because of those changes.”

Tony White, 69, a Western Carolina alumnus now living in Atlanta and retired CEO of Applied Biosystems, said he wishes the bill would have excluded his alma mater or included all UNC system schools.

“What makes Western Carolina one that needs special treatment from the legislature to say that our students have to get a cheaper ride than everyone else?” White asked. “We think that’s going to damage the long-term positioning of the university as a premium university.”

Others like Stephen Leonard, an associate professor of political science at UNC-Chapel Hill, said the plan could change the mission of minority institutions by opening them up to anyone who wants to attend college at $500 a semester.

“Using the existing admissions standards, students coming from underprivileged circumstances would be less competitive,” Leonard said.

But David Belcher, chancellor of Western Carolina University, said the university supports the change to $500.

“We find at Western Carolina that people are very concerned about affordability and access for higher education,” Belcher said. “This is an opportunity for us.”

Staff writer Bryan Anderson

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