So when the Senator Tom Apodaca of the North Carolina senate introduced the Access to Affordable College Education Act, or SB 873, I thought to myself, “Well, that sounds like a good idea.” The bill name has three of my favorite words in its title: access, affordable, and education.
What could be wrong about that?
A lot, it turns out.
Listed below is what the bill, in its current version (edition 4) seeks to do. Let me know when you notice something amiss.
- A fixed tuition and fee payment option for freshman or transfer students to any constituent institutions of The University of North Carolina
- A reduction in student fees
- Reduced tuition for residents ($500 per semester) and nonresidents ($2,500 per semester) at five designated institutions
- The Director of the Budget “may” increase the base budget of The University of North Carolina “to cover the cost of lost tuition revenue for that fiscal year”
- The five institutions are Elizabeth City State University, Fayetteville State University, University of North Carolina at Pembroke, Winston-Salem State University, and Western Carolina University
- Revisit the cap on out-of-state students, which is currently 18 percent
- The establishment of Cheatham-White Scholarships at North Carolina Agricultural and Technological State University and North Carolina Central University (a merit scholarship program similar to the prestigious Morehead-Cain scholarship at UNC-Chapel Hill)
That’s the gist of it. Earlier versions of the bill also included one more provision, whereby the Board of Governors could evaluate and choose to recommend changes to the names of any constituent universities.
Did you see it? Take a look at the five institutions singled out. Three out of the five—Elizabeth City State University, Fayetteville State University, and Winston-Salem State University—are HBCUs, or historically black colleges and universities. The fourth, University of North Carolina at Pembroke is, as declared by state law, “North Carolina’s Historically American Indian University” and has been serving the American Indian population in North Carolina since 1887.
Five schools targeted for dramatic tuition reduction, four of them serving primarily minority populations in the state.
I think I am starting to hear zebras. And I’m not the only one.
Last week, Chancellor Cummings of UNC-Pembroke released a statement expressing concern about SB 873. He said, “Access to higher education has been at the core of UNC Pembroke’s mission since its founding 129 years ago… However, we have raised questions regarding the implementation of SB 873, should it become law, as well as potential unintended effects on our campus, specifically regarding financial sustainability and the value of our brand.”
In other words, the law, which targets minority-serving institutions, appears primed to bankrupt them in quick succession.
At Western Carolina University, Faculty Senate Chair David McCord expressed concern at the potential loss of $26 million dollars in revenue, telling Inside Higher Ed, “It’s an immediate alarm for us, because it can really do some huge damage,” especially on the heels of significant cuts in to the university in recent state appropriation budgets.
Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore of the Charlotte Observer, said the bill was attempting to obliterate UNC’s black history, particularly in its earlier draft which included the renaming clause, which she called “presumptive, ignorant, and, frankly, racist.”
While the bill claims that the discrepancy in funding will be made up from the general funds in the state budget, the word “may” troubles me. Each year, these five institutions will have to wait while the General Assembly decides their fate. Will they get another year of funding? Or will this be the year that the Board of Governors and the state legislature forces them to shut their doors for good?
Winston-Salem State University (founded 1892), Fayetteville State University (founded 1867), University of North Carolina at Pembroke (founded 1887), and Elizabeth City State University (founded 1891): four minority-serving institutions with 527 years of history between them.
Whatever the Access to Affordable College Education Act truly seeks to do, it would invariably and unequivocally change the face of these historic institutions. We need to ensure their futures as we continue to honor their past.