To death and taxes and everything that seems unavoidable, you can add tuition increases at Western North Carolina’s public universities.
Tuition hikes throughout the state (and nation) at both public and private colleges have been a near constant in recent years, and in all likelihood, they will happen again Feb. 8 when the UNC Board of Governors votes on proposed tuition and fee increases at the state’s 16 public colleges, including WNC’s three public universities.
The N.C. General Assembly has the power to override the board’s decision, but typically it does not, said Joni Worthington, University of North Carolina vice president for communications.
In December, trustees at UNC Asheville, Appalachian State University and Western Carolina University voted to increase tuition and fees, in large part to make up for revenue lost due to state budget cuts.
Tuition for UNCA’s in-state undergraduates would increase $190, nudging the cost from $3,476 to $3,666 for the 2013-2014 academic year. Tuition at WCU would rise $272 for the year, from $3,397 to $3,669 for in-state undergraduates. ASU undergraduates would pay $230 more for the year, increasing tuition from $3,542 to $3,772.
Under the University of North Carolina Board of Governor’s tuition plan, rates cannot increase more than 6.5 percent for undergraduate resident students unless allowed by the General Assembly or there is an “unusual instance” in which a school shows a “significant unfunded need.” On average, the state pays up to $11,292 a year per student of the costs incurred to educate students in the UNC system.
UNCA makes do
UNCA would use 25 percent of its tuition increase for “need-based” financial aid, according to John Pierce, vice chancellor for finance and operations. The rest of the raised revenue – about $474,000 – will be used to meet the university’s critical needs, Pierce said.
That money is “only a small portion of the revenue UNC Asheville has lost in recent years due to state budget cuts,” Pierce said in a statement.
Like universities throughout the UNC system, UNCA trustees have proposed increases to mandatory fees as well. At UNCA, a $25 increase to the education and technology fee would, among other things, go toward expanding bandwidth on campus. A $40 increase in the athletic fee would, among other uses, provide additional funding for the school’s new women’s swimming team. The $37 increase in the student activity fee would help support university retention goals. A $23 increase in the student health fee would help fund the new location of the student health and counseling center on Weaver Boulevard. The $10 increase in the transportation and safety fee will help the city of Asheville complete the proposed Reed Creek Greenway, which students use.
UNCA has also proposed an increase in the costs of room and board from $7,584 to $7,856, bringing the total two-semester cost for an in-state resident staying on campus to $14,097. Out-of-state students staying on campus would pay $27,919.
WCU seeks parity
The tuition increase at WCU marks the second year of a five-year effort to bring tuition rates closer to those at its peer public institutions. The increases are necessary to protect the quality of education at a time of decreasing state allocations, Robert Edwards, vice chancellor for administration and finance, told WCU trustees before they approved the increases Dec. 7. WCU has absorbed more than $32 million in state funding cuts since 2008, he said then.
Twenty percent of WCU’s proposed $272 tuition increase would go to need-based financial aid, and an additional 5 percent is designated for merit-based financial aid. The remaining amount would fund graduate assistantships (5 percent), increase faculty merit raises (20 percent), increase liberal arts course capacity (15 percent), add faculty to high-demand programs (20 percent), enhance academic technology (10 percent) and add to library collections (5 percent).
The WCU board also approved increases of $68 per year for three mandatory fees charged by the university – an increase of $34 per year in the education and technology fee, $18 in the health service fee and $16 in the transportation fee. All other mandatory fees — athletics, student activity, book rental, document and various debt service fees — would remain unchanged under the proposal.
The board also approved increases averaging about 4 percent each in room rates for residence halls and in meal plan costs.
With the proposed changes approved by the trustees, WCU’s average total cost of attendance for 2013-14, including room and board, would be $12,349 per year for a student who subscribes to the most-popular meal plan.
During the trustees’ revenue discussion, board member and student government association president Alecia Page asked fellow trustees to consider the impact of higher costs on students and parents, according to a press release the university sent out about the proposed increase. Families are less aware of the university’s financial concerns than they are of their own, she said. Where WCU is concerned about funding, students are concerned about affordability, she said.
ASU builds up
ASU trustees approved the $230 increase in tuition on Dec. 17, as well as a $120 increase in general fees, which include educational and technology fees, athletics and student activities fees. They also approved a $44 increase in indebtedness fee, which includes a new $14 infrastructure improvement fee to be used to renovate 15,000 square feet in Anne Belk Hall to house the Department of Computer Science and the Department of Anthropology. The remainder of the money – $30 – is for athletics facilities debt service.
Trustees also approved increases in room and board, the book rental system and fees that support the AppalCart transportation system and the campus Safe Ride program. An in-state student living on campus during the next academic year will pay a total of $12,952.
ASU’s academic fee increase will be used to restore 10 faculty positions and restore library operating funds that were cut from previous budgets, as well as create six positions related to the university’s new “Finish in Four” initiative designed to help undergraduate students complete their degree in four years. The increased tuition will also fund an additional staff psychologist position on campus to help address the demand for counseling services on campus.
Under the proposed increases, ASU’s offices of financial aid and disability services will receive funding for an additional position. Three athletic advising positions, previously supported by the school’s athletics department, would be funded with academic fees.
Jake Cox, president of ASU’s Student Government Association and a member of the university’s Board of Trustees, cast the only dissenting vote on the increases. The student association had earlier passed a resolution opposing funding the athletic advising positions, contending they would not benefit the entire student body.
One new fee implemented at ASU is a $14 infrastructure improvement fee. Greg Lovins, interim vice chancellor for business affairs, said in a press release that many institutions in the UNC system were imposing the fee to make up for the lack of state funds to address repairs and renovations on campuses. At ASU alone, he said, there was approximately $150 million in deferred maintenance needs.