University of North Carolina students who live in-state and their parents received a “gift” from UNC President Tom Ross last month. Ross said he will not seek an increase in tuition at any of the system’s campuses in 2014.
Students who live elsewhere won’t fare so well. The N.C. General Assembly has raised the tuition for out-of-state students by 12.3 percent at some UNC campuses.
But after a decade in which tuition costs have almost doubled – 90 percent during the past 10 years – North Carolina students, at last, are getting a bit of a break.
Before we get too carried away with the celebration, it’s important to remember that funding the UNC system challenges all of us. The N.C. Constitution directs the legislature to keep public universities free “as far as practicable.”
As a result, the UNC system as recently as 2008 received 73 percent of its funding from the state. That has since decreased to 66 percent. And while the UNC system is recognized nationally for the value it provides for each dollar, the state’s cuts have forced administrators to make tough decisions about eliminating classes, losing top professors and valuable research grants.
The trend has put North Carolina as a whole in a bind, too. With the glory days of traditional industries such as tobacco and textiles long behind us, education becomes an even more important asset to companies considering locating here.
If the best of our high school graduates can’t afford a higher education or spending cuts significantly erode the quality of our universities, North Carolina will find it more difficult to compete for the kinds of jobs that employ the best and the brightest.
That’s bad news for the students of today, but even more ominous for the future of the state.