Oct 312012
 

Wilmington Star News

Published: Monday, October 29, 2012

Editorial – UNCW students may have to dig deeper into their wallets – again

It’s become an annual ritual, even as families still struggle with stagnant incomes and rising costs of living. But next month the University of North Carolina Wilmington trustees will consider yet another tuition increase for students.

The latest request will come on the heels of a $527 increase – more than 9 percent – that took effect this fall, and follows a series of tuition hikes that continue to price students out of the market in a higher education system that under the state constitution is supposed to be “as far as practicable,” free to North Carolina residents.

Chancellor Gary Miller hasn’t said what type of increase he’ll recommend for next year – the board will get those details soon. And he offered a bit of good news, that student fees may drop because of a refinancing of debt on student housing construction.

But the price will increase by no less than $283, the amount the UNC Board of Governors approved as a “catch-up” fee to help offset a portion of the hundreds of millions in budget cuts by the N.C. General Assembly.

And therein lies the UNCW trustees’ dilemma. As lawmakers have reduced the share of the state budget that goes toward higher education, they have pawned off responsibility for making up the difference to the universities, which have chosen to raise tuition rather than make deep cuts.

This time, however, students were presented with higher tuition and devastating budget cuts. That is no way to treat one of the nation’s most respected public university systems, or the students of North Carolina.

 

Every tuition increase will force a certain number of students to drop out, postpone education or draw out their degree over many years rather than obtaining it in four years – thus delaying the ability to take full advantage of the employment advantages a college degree affords.

It is in everyone’s best interest for North Carolina to put a premium on educating any student who has the qualifications and the desire to seek a college degree. Our economy depends on being able to offer businesses a labor force of educated workers. That requires an investment in education at all levels, even when an economic slump makes that more difficult. We’re going in the wrong direction.

Budget cuts have gone beyond what is necessary to improve efficiency, and could have been softened had the Honorables allowed a 1-cent temporary sales tax to continue for a few more years. But students and their families cannot withstand repeated tuition increases to make up for the General Assembly’s budget cutting. To add salt to the wound, the state budget also cut money for financial aid.

North Carolina’s universities cost less than many other state systems, but in a place where the median income is lower than the national average, any tuition increase is going to hurt deserving students. In seven years tuition and fees at UNCW have increased by well over 50 percent, which is much faster than inflation.

If the trustees must consider raising tuition yet again, they should do so only after allowing students and their parents to talk about how higher tuition will affect their ability to complete their education. They should explain what programs or services may be cut if the additional money is not available.

And they must offer a plan to limit future tuition increases.

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