CHAPEL HILL — Some higher education leaders in North Carolina don't think it's fair that some of the tuition paid to attend the state's public universities is used to provide needier students with financial aid. The University of North Carolina's governing board is likely to tell students and their parents more about where their tuition spending goes.
The UNC Board of Governors on Friday is expected to approve sending a statement with every resident student's tuition bill that breaks down where that money is spent. If approved, tuition bills next academic year will explain how each campus spends tuition revenues.
For example, about half of the $3,500 tuition bill a North Carolina student attending UNC-Charlotte is expected to pay next year will cover instructional costs like faculty salaries. About 40 percent pays to run the campus. Ten percent of the tuition bill goes toward helping students pay for higher education.
State taxpayers spend another $9,300 toward the total cost of educating each in-state student at UNC-Charlotte.
Students in the state universities last year got more than $1 billion in federal grants and loans. Several university board members meeting Thursday bristled at learning that after the federal funds, the largest source of help for North Carolina undergraduates is money sliced off from higher tuition bills and set aside.
UNC campuses have increased average tuition by 55 percent since 2007-08, before the national recession pushed state lawmakers into sharper cuts in taxpayer funding, yet the state universities remain among the lowest-cost in the country. Even before 2007, the university system has directed campuses to set aside a portion — most years a quarter to a half — of the tuition increases for financial aid to help students who need it.
The tuition set-asides have become a more frequent complaint as more of the UNC board members have been chosen by Republicans who took control of the General Assembly in 2011. The $126 million campuses distributed to students in 2012-13 from the tuition set-asides means some students are subsidizing others, board member Frank Grainger of Cary said.
"It's not a fact that they don't need that money. We need to find a way to help them get that money," he said. "But it's not to take it from another fellow student that's in the school regardless to what their social status is in the community or state, and give it to someone else."
A financial aid report shows almost 60 percent of the 160,000 or so in-state undergraduates who attended UNC schools in the 2012-13 academic year received need-based financial aid. The average ranged from four out of 10 undergraduates at UNC-Chapel Hill to between 70 and 90 percent attending campuses targeting minority students in Winston-Salem, Pembroke, Fayetteville, Greensboro, Elizabeth City and Durham.
The board's review of where tuition dollars go comes as students plan to protest to the state university board on Friday against higher education costs that drive many into debt. The demonstration aims to remind university governors that the state constitution requires that higher education be as close to free as possible, one of the organizers said.
"We don't want to settle for the high tuition that we are currently facing. It's still way too much to ask students to go into enormous amounts of debt for education," said Casey Aldridge, 19, a freshman studying political science at UNC-Charlotte.