Editorials

A wise step back on targeted UNC tuition cuts

HBCU students and alumni rally against Senate Bill 873

Students and alumni of Historic Black Colleges and Universities rallied against Senate Bill 873 on the Halifax Mall behind the North Carolina Legislature on Wednesday, June 1, 2016 in Raleigh, N.C.
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Students and alumni of Historic Black Colleges and Universities rallied against Senate Bill 873 on the Halifax Mall behind the North Carolina Legislature on Wednesday, June 1, 2016 in Raleigh, N.C.

It wasn’t that long ago that some Republican legislators were flirting with the idea of closing Elizabeth City State University, and Gov. Pat McCrory, also a Republican, was talking about cutting costs in the University of North Carolina system by merging campus programs and curbing some course offerings.

So it’s understandable why alums and some staff on five campuses – UNC-Pembroke, three of the historically black universities and Western Carolina University – protested a plan from Republicans to “help” them by lowering their tuition to $500 a semester. The HBCUs were removed from the proposal by Sen. Tom Apodaca on Wednesday in the wake of strong objections from alumni and supporters. They had rightly argued that the money lost from dramatic tuition cuts might do serious damage, even though Apodaca promised that the legislature would restore the money through appropriations.

It’s good Apodaca responded; he should have removed Pembroke and Western from the plan as well.

But what in the world happened even to get the issue onto the GOP agenda? Likely, a powerful senator bulled ahead without consulting anyone who might have a temperate view.

Add to lawmakers’ impatience a clear disregard for the feelings of HBCU alumni who rightly thought they should have had input into something like this.

Rather than come up with some kind of tuition gambit that sounded like it was hatched over lunch, GOP leaders would do better to convene a summit of sorts on the future missions of HBCUs and the commitment to them.

Even better would be for University of North Carolina system President Margaret Spellings to call for and lead that study. The last thing she needs is more interference from the General Assembly. For there is a legitimate discussion to be held on the overall expense of a college education not just at HBCUs or schools such as Pembroke and Western but on all campuses. The cost of an education at North Carolina’s public institutions has escalated over the past decade in particular, and though the universities defend increased charges to students as necessary to maintain quality, it’s time to examine the issue in detail.

If this kind of dialogue happened, then something productive might actually come out of an ill-conceived idea that fortunately was stopped before it became law.

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