Western Carolina University is among three University of North Carolina system institutions selected by the General Assembly for inclusion in the newly unveiled NC Promise Tuition Plan, which will reduce out-of-pocket tuition costs for in-state undergraduate students at those three schools to $500 per semester beginning in fall 2018.
Legislators included provisions for the tuition plan, referred to as a “tuition buy-down,” as part of the state budget bill approved Friday, July 1, by the N.C. House of Representatives following approval earlier this week by the state Senate. The document now goes to Gov. Pat McCrory for his signature, which political observers expect within days.
The NC Promise Tuition Plan also will reduce the out-of-pocket tuition costs for undergraduate students from states other than North Carolina to $2,500 per semester at WCU and the other two UNC system schools – the University of North Carolina at Pembroke and Elizabeth City State University.
Sponsors and supporters of the plan say it is designed to help address issues of access and affordability to higher education in North Carolina and to begin to reduce student indebtedness.
In addition to the NC Promise Tuition Plan, the budget legislation also locks in tuition expenses at all UNC system schools so that students would pay the same amount each semester for four years; caps the cumulative total of increases in all undergraduate student fees to 3 percent per year; and creates a merit-based scholarship program for students at two historically black UNC institutions – N.C. A&T State University and N.C. Central University.
“We share the goal – evidenced in the NC Promise Tuition Plan and a new merit scholarship program – to keep college affordable and make the cost to students and families more predictable and stable,” said Margaret Spellings, UNC system president. “Such tangible support for UNC is vitally important to the economic future of North Carolina, and we thank the General Assembly for this show of confidence in our public universities.”
As part of the budget document, legislators inserted specific language mandating that the state cover the difference between undergraduate students’ out-of-pocket costs for tuition at the three NC Promise campuses and the actual cost of providing that education. The bill says that the director of the budget “…shall authorize an increase in the base budget of the University of North Carolina of up to $40 million each fiscal year to cover the cost of the ‘buy-down’ that fiscal year and shall allocate the appropriate sum to each constituent institution.”
The tuition plan, which originated in legislation titled Senate Bill 873: “The Access to Affordable College Education Act,” has resulted in numerous comments, concerns and questions from various campus constituencies. To help address some of those matters, university officials have prepared a list of ways that the NC Promise Tuition Plan is expected to affect WCU. That document can be found at http://news-prod.wcu.edu/nc-promise-will-lower-tuition-increase-competitiveness-wcu/.
In addition, answers to frequently asked questions about NC Promise can be found at http://www.wcu.edu/advocate/files/FAQs-NC-Promise.pdf, and other university statements regarding the tuition plan and Senate Bill 873 dating back to May 13 are archived at the website http://advocate.wcu.edu.
“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,” said Ed Broadwell, chair of WCU’s Board of Trustees. “To meet this commitment, those of us in leadership positions must begin to address the hurdles that can prevent students from attending our university.”