Chair of WCU Board of Trustees issues statement of support for Senate Bill 873

The chairman of Western Carolina University’s Board of Trustees has issued a statement in support of Senate Bill 873, which would reduce the tuition bill for WCU students to $500 per semester.

In a statement issued Tuesday, June 28, on behalf of the entire board, Chairman Ed Broadwell expressed the trustees’ support of the efforts of WCU Chancellor David O. Belcher and other university officials as they work with University of North Carolina system leadership and state elected officials on the legislation, which is subtitled “The Access to Affordable College Education Act.”

“This board is fully dedicated to ensuring that the opportunity for higher education is available to every person who seeks it in our state, with a particular focus on the people of Western North Carolina. To meet this commitment, those of us in leadership positions must begin to address the hurdles that can prevent students from attending our university,” Broadwell said in the statement.

“The board recognizes that issues of access, affordability, and student indebtedness are not confined to WCU or to WNC; indeed, these issues are national in scope and affect families from every walk of life. This board applauds the General Assembly for drawing attention to these important issues.”

The proposal, which would result in significantly lower out-of-pocket tuition expenses for students at WCU and selected other UNC institutions, is included in a $22.24 billion state budget compromise announced late Monday (June 27) by leaders of the General Assembly.

Supporters of the bill, which has generated some controversy across the state, say the proposal would provide lower-cost higher education options and would result in enrollment increases at the UNC campuses with lower tuition bills.

Ed Broadwell

Ed Broadwell

Broadwell’s statement in its entirety:

“On behalf of the Western Carolina University Board of Trustees, I want to express the board’s full commitment to and support of Chancellor David Belcher and his staff as they work with University of North Carolina system leadership on Senate Bill 873: The Access to Affordable College Education Act, which is now included in the budget put forth by the N.C. General Assembly.

“This board is fully dedicated to ensuring that the opportunity for higher education is available to every person who seeks it in our state, with a particular focus on the people of Western North Carolina. To meet this commitment, those of us in leadership positions must begin to address the hurdles that can prevent students from attending our university. The board recognizes that issues of access, affordability, and student indebtedness are not confined to WCU or to WNC; indeed, these issues are national in scope and affect families from every walk of life. This board applauds the General Assembly for drawing attention to these important issues.

“My fellow trustees and I understand that total cost of attendance at WCU and other colleges and universities remains out of reach for many students of modest means. Although SB 873 is not the final answer to college affordability, we believe it to be a good start. Currently, the total cost of attendance at WCU is roughly $17,000 per year for a typical undergraduate student from North Carolina, living on campus with a mid-level meal plan. With the NC Promise tuition buy-down plan outlined in SB 873, total cost of attendance would drop to roughly $14,000 per year for the same student. That is far from ‘cheap.’

“This board also recognizes that some alumni have expressed concern about potential unintended consequences of this legislation, including the possibility that lowering tuition would damage the reputation of the university. I can assure you that this board would not support any proposal that would harm this institution. In fact, WCU alumni comprise nearly half of the membership of this board. This is a time when our university, its leadership, and its students need your full support.

“WCU has a longstanding, well-deserved reputation as a high-quality regional university. The academic profile of incoming students is reflective of our quality. Members of this board are proud of the increases in quality metrics and enrollment growth over the past decade and, in our role of governance and oversight of this university, we will work with campus administrators to ensure that those quality standards continue to increase. This board believes that SB 873 could, in fact, enhance our academic profile, allowing WCU to select the best and brightest from every part of our region.

“Chancellor Belcher and his staff have the complete support and confidence of this board as they work with UNC system leadership to implement the NC Promise program so that it will provide an innovative approach to ensuring that all North Carolinians have access to an affordable college education. The board is especially appreciative of Sen. Tom Apodaca, a proud WCU graduate, and other state Senate and House leaders for considering and adopting feedback from the system including the elimination from the legislation of a mandated 5 percent reduction in fees.

“The WCU Board of Trustees remains committed to a leadership role in helping solve one of the biggest challenges facing higher education today – that of college affordability.”