UNC System Risks Becoming Average

8425495578_b20d258b7e_bThe University of North Carolina system is one of the best bargains in the country. Students get a first-class education for a fraction of the price of a private university.

UNC-Chapel Hill, for example, has long been considered a “public ivy.” It draws the best and brightest students from the state, the country, and even the world; their students go on to become leaders in industry and public service. And it does all of this while remaining mostly affordable at $8,734 in tuition for in-state students per year (compared to $47,448 at Duke University).

A recent article in The New York Times highlighted the dwindling numbers of spots for in-state tuition students at some elite public universities, such as UCLA and The University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa. These schools have responded to financial difficulties over the last decade by shifting the population balance from in-state to out-of-state and international students. The tuition for out-of-state students is often closer in cost to that of a private university (at UNC-Chapel Hill, out-of-state students pay $33,624 a year).

The UNC system, however, cannot do that. There is a law prohibiting freshman undergraduate classes from having more than 18% of out-of-state students. As a result, UNC-Chapel Hill stands out as one of the elite public universities that still offers state residents an affordable opportunity for higher education. Our state is poised to lead the way in promoting the value of higher education for everyone.

The problem? We aren’t getting money from out-of-state students but we’re also not getting money from anywhere else. Our current governor and a lot of members of the state legislature aren’t prioritizing public education. North Carolina will soon look nothing like the shining star that it once was. Here’s why.

  • The House budget made changes to these proposed cuts, but still calls for $44.3 million in management cuts in the next two years. That is on top of the $658 million in cuts already made to the UNC system.

The war against higher education in North Carolina is being fought on a number of fronts. There is more to it than money.

  • Just last week, 46 degree programs were eliminated across the UNC system by the Board of Governors. UNC-Greensboro had eight programs shut down, including Composition, Latin, and several secondary education programs like Mathematics.

During this legislative session, Senator Tom McInnis (R) introduced a bill that would tie professor salaries entirely to course load in the UNC system, requiring all professors to teach no fewer than four courses per semester. This would effectively turn all schools in the UNC system into “teaching colleges,” where faculty do far less research and the emphasis is on teaching only.

The impact? UNC-Chapel Hill and NC State would no longer be considered elite research universities. They would just be average state schools with good sports teams.

And, as The New Yorker pointed out, education has become so political at UNC-Chapel Hill that the Board of Governors asked for the resignation of President Tom Ross who had been “successful in every way” as a President, according to the Board of Governors chair John Fennebresque.

Governor McCrory has supporters like Art Pope, whose conservative organization currently wages a “two-pronged attack on public higher education as currently practiced.” The cutting of low-performing majors, like Africana Studies at NC State, funnels more students through pre-professional majors like business, thus limiting the humanities offerings available to students.

As more than 56% of the students in public higher education in North Carolina are women, we have a vested interest in making sure that public education stays affordable and free from ties to a conservative agenda — or any agenda — designed to prevent the free flow of ideas.

MelissaMelissa Geil is a freelance writer and English teacher. Although originally from New York, she moved to North Carolina the first time for college (go Tar Heels), and now she is back to stay. She enjoys reading, hiking, and gallivanting around the triangle with her family.




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