UNC System President Margaret Spellings and her community college counterpart shared a stage in Charlotte last night with House Speaker Tim Moore. They fielded questions about how to make higher education more affordable and accessible.
One way state lawmakers are trying to do that is by reducing in-state tuition to $500 per semester at three universities – Western Carolina, UNC-Pembroke and Elizabeth City State. Out-of-State tuition will be $2500 per semester.
An ECSU alum, A.L. Fleming, told House Speaker Tim Moore he likes that plan, but worries it’ll be short-lived.
“Will there be funding available? Those in-state and out-of-state students are saying why enroll with the possibility of it changing on me in the middle of my four-year degree,” asked Fleming.
“I certainly support continuing it,” responded Moore. “We’re wanting to see if it’s actually producing the results that we believe it will - of allowing students to come in and afford it, who otherwise wouldn’t, who actually are completing their degree, graduating, not going into debt as much.”
To offset the loss of tuition dollars at these schools, the general assembly set aside $51 million.
Spellings made clear she strongly supports the program, but pointed to more targeted ways to defer costs for students statewide.
“When we reduce tuition, it’s like peanut butter - everybody gets it,” said Spellings. But we can be very strategic with financial aid - what just $1,000 or $1,500 can get students.”
As an example, she pointed to UNC Charlotte’s 49er Finish Program. The university invites former students, who left school with more than 90 credits, to finish their degrees.
The community college system’s acting president Jennifer Haygood mentioned small grants some states have used to give low-income students a better chance of completing their degrees.
“For our students, those grants need to be provided to fix the car when it breaks down, or emergency baby-sitting, or those types of life-happens episodes,” said Haygood.
Governor Roy Cooper also made a brief appearance. He said businesses tell him they want a well-trained work force. He said he urges them to use their political capital to pressure politicians to invest in education, and to go a step further, to tell them to stop cutting the corporate income tax.