Education
3:15 pm
Fri February 10, 2012

UNC Board Approves Tuition Increases

The UNC Board of Governors voted today to allow member schools to raise in-state student tuition by an average of 8.8 percent next year. They did so as around 100 protestors disrupted the meeting, banged on walls, and shouted their disapproval. One protestor was arrested.

Today's scene was the culmination of the stress caused by dwindling resources for public higher education. And as Dave DeWitt reports, the vote to increase tuition was a compromise no one is happy about.

Dave DeWitt: If you try to call a faculty member in the art department at UNC Chapel Hill in his or her office, you'll get a message like this.

Recording: We're sorry, you have reached a number that is disconnected or is no longer in service. If you feel you have reached this recording in error, please check the number and call again.

Cutting office phones is one way academic departments are managing the historic funding decreases of the past few years. Others are more central to their mission. At UNC-Chapel Hill alone, hundreds of class sections are gone and more students are packed into classes.

There's also another by-product - the best and brightest faculty are leaving. Last year, UNC-Chapel Hill retained just 1/3 of the faculty recruited by peer institutions. In prior years, the University was winning 2/3 of those battles.

UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Holden Thorp says faculty aren't just leaving for the private schools with the biggest pockets.

Holden Thorp: It's probably surprising to some people in North Carolina, but almost all of our public peers have given raises at some point during the last three years, while we haven't.

That's one reason Thorp asked for an annual tuition increase this year of $800. That got reduced to $695 in the final proposal by UNC system President Tom Ross.

That would still keep UNC at less than half the cost of peer schools like Penn State, and thousands of dollars less than Virginia, Michigan, Ohio State and South Carolina.

But that is of little consolation to the students who protested the Board meeting this morning.

About 100 protestors marched down the hill and through the front door of the UNC General Administration Building this morning. A handful got into the Board Room, and were ready when the Board brought up tuition.

David Young: I move approval of tuition and fees as presented.

Matt Hickson: MIC CHECK, MIC CHECK, WE ARE THE STUDENTS YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO REPRESENT.

Matt Hickson is a junior business major at Chapel Hill. He led the first of two lengthy interruptions. But that didn't stop the tuition increase from passing a few moments later. After the vote, Hickson was not deterred.

Hickson: Obviously the proposition passing is a defeat. We can't afford, as students, more tuition increases. This isn't just symbolic posture. We can't afford this as a group. And it's not the end of anything today. We're going to fight forward and the state legislature is going to hear a lot from us.

Other students have more measured reactions. T.J Eaves is the student body president at Western Caroline University. He addressed the Board of Governors during their two-day meeting.

TJ Eaves: Of course, if you ask any student, they are going to say 'no, I don't want to pay any more tuition and fees, this is ridiculous'. But, we all understand that the quality of education is very important to every one of us as our degrees are going to set us off on our careers for the rest of our lives.

Eaves and others were drowned out on this day, by the vocal and, at times, physical, protest. As protestors forced the Board meeting to end early and then occupied the members' seats when they left, UNC President Tom Ross moved upstairs and said he empathizes with the students.

Tom Ross: Right now, times are very difficult because of the cuts we've absorbed. And I think our campuses needed some help to, as I say, put band-aids on some of the more serious problems.

It will be Ross's job to strike the balance between making sure students can afford a college education, and making sure the degree they earn means something. That might lead to some faculty staying, but it's unlikely those office phones are ever coming back.