Under the Dome

House would drop NC Promise tuition break for out-of-staters

The Native American Resource Center housed in Old Main on the campus of UNC-Pembroke.
The Native American Resource Center housed in Old Main on the campus of UNC-Pembroke. Charlotte Observer file photo

The House budget proposal would eliminate the NC Promise tuition break for out-of-state students at three UNC campuses, ending a key component of the program before it begins.

The Senate, where the NC Promise plan was born last year, left the tuition break intact for out-of-state students as well as North Carolinians in its own budget.

The idea was to reduce tuition significantly at three UNC campuses – Western Carolina University, UNC Pembroke and Elizabeth City State University. Starting in fall 2018, North Carolina students would pay an in-state rate of $500 per semester while out-of-state students would pay $2,500 in tuition per semester. The legislature had pledged to increase funding to the campuses to make up for the tuition revenue loss.

House budget writers apparently want to concentrate the spending on North Carolina students, while also providing for an anticipated enrollment increase at the campuses. The House would kick in $40 million in 2018-19 to cover the tuition reduction in its first year.

When the low tuition plan was introduced last year, it was aimed at five campuses, but supporters of historically black universities complained that NC Promise appeared to be an attempt to curtail funding for the campuses or alter their character. So the plan was changed, with only WCU, UNCP and ECSU getting the low tuition.

A central part of the strategy was to give the three campuses a recruiting edge with neighboring states. The universities are a short distance to the borders with Tennessee, South Carolina and Virginia. Without the out-of-state enticement one goal of NC Promise could go unmet, especially at struggling ECSU, which is just across the border from Virginia. Enrollment has fallen dramatically at the historically black university in northeastern North Carolina during the past few years.

The House budget takes aim at another Senate pet project from last year, cutting $1 million and eliminating the N.C. Policy Collaboratory, an environmental policy research and think tank at UNC-Chapel Hill. Faculty and environmentalists raised concerns that the science could be compromised by political influence. The collaboratory is currently studying shellfish aquaculture and pollution controls at Jordan Lake, and Senate leader Phil Berger’s former science adviser, Jeffrey Warren, was hired at the new entity.