UNC board should lift cap on financial aid — The News & Observer



UNC board should life cap on financial aid

Published: Aug. 4, 2014

The Board of Governors of the University of North Carolina system has told its member schools to limit what they take from tuition to redistribute as financial aid. The board is now controlled by Republicans who aren’t keen on redistribution, even when it serves the system’s mission.

Last week, the board capped at 15 percent the amount of tuition revenue that can be used for financial aid. The limit will affect financial aid at least six UNC schools, including N.C. State, UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. Central, that are at or exceeding the 15 percent threshold.

The board’s idea is that the cap might help keep tuition lower for students who don’t receive aid. It also approved a limit of 5 percent on tuition increases.

Capping the use of tuition for financial aid could drive out students, many of them middle-income, who need it to stay in school. For instance, at UNC-Chapel Hill, where 20 percent of tuition is set aside for financial aid, 43 percent of students receive need-based aid. Without help from their university, they will have to seek more grants from other sources or borrow more money, piling up debt that can take years to pay off.

It’s not as if full-tuition students are funding all the expenses of those students who need help. In fact, students from North Carolina who are paying their way are subsidized by taxpayers anyway, in terms of what it costs to provide their educations.

Financial aid benefits more than the recipients. Offering the means for highly qualified but financially pressed students to get their degrees creates a more diverse campus that benefits all students.

If there is a limit on available financial aid, campuses with the higher expense levels such as UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State could become “elite” schools, which is not the idea behind a come-one, come-all opportunity for everyone, one of the guiding principles behind the UNC system.

Indeed, the system has been a leader in North Carolina’s development by making higher education something to which all students could aspire. That is a principle that has inspired and driven many of the state’s great residents to become the first in their families to attend college and to send their own children to UNC schools. Low tuition and financial aid made that possible for many.

Unfortunately, the UNC system has raised tuition too much, too fast, in the last 20 years, and as is the case with institutions all over the country, those increases have far outpaced inflation. It is entirely reasonable for universities to have taken a percentage of those tuition increases and apply them to financial aid.

The benefits of ensuring that students in need can attend a UNC school without taking out crippling loans are far more significant than any uncertain potential savings for those who can afford to pay more.

The UNC board can serve all students by lifting the cap.