Phi Beta Cons

A Cheaper Ride

It’s official. The North Carolina legislature has passed a law mandating that three universities in the University of North Carolina system reduce their tuition to $500 per semester beginning in the fall of 2018. The state promises to make up for the losses, at least for now.

Lower tuition will increase access, won’t it? And isn’t greater access the mantra of politicians, faculty, and administrators? Maybe not, since a lot of people are grousing about it.

The three schools are Western Carolina University, UNC-Pembroke, and Elizabeth City State University. Initially two other schools were included, Fayetteville State and Winston-Salem State, both of which are historically black universities.

But there was opposition,as I reported earlier, based on a feeling that the lower tuition would hurt the reputation of the campuses. Two of the HBCUs were removed.

Even now, there is opposition. The News & Observer reports:

Tony White, 69, a Western Carolina alumnus now living in Atlanta and retired CEO of Applied Biosystems, said he wishes the bill would have excluded his alma mater or included all UNC system schools.

“What makes Western Carolina one that needs special treatment from the legislature to say that our students have to get a cheaper ride than everyone else?” White asked. “We think that’s going to damage the long-term positioning of the university as a premium university.”

In other words, high price raises reputation (the Chivas Regal effect).

Others like Stephen Leonard, an associate professor of political science at UNC-Chapel Hill, said the plan could change the mission of minority institutions by opening them up to anyone who wants to attend college at $500 a semester.

“Using the existing admissions standards, students coming from underprivileged circumstances would be less competitive,” Leonard said.

In other words, historically black (or in the case of UNC-Pembroke, historically American Indian) colleges may become more racially or ethnically integrated.

One is forcibly reminded that you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

A note on the significance of the price change: The current tuition at Western Carolina University is $1946.50, but the actual cost of attendance is much higher. Not only are there lodging and meals, but $2,767 in fees must be paid. Western Carolina says that the actual cost of attendance beginning in the fall of 2018 will be $7,354, compared with the present $8,800. Thus, it’s not as dramatic as it seems.

But for Western, at least, out-of-state tuition may be more important. The school in Cullowhee, North Carolina, is at the far western edge of the state and much closer to Atlanta than to, say, Raleigh. Total costs for out-of-state students will go down from $13,997 to $9,354.

That could have an impact.

Jane S. ShawJane S. Shaw retired as president of the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in 2015. Before joining the Pope Center in 2006, Shaw spent 22 years in ...


The Latest