Today, Friday, July 1, the North Carolina House of Representatives passed the legislative budget approved by the Senate earlier this week. The governor is expected to sign off in the coming days. Included in the budget is a new measure called NC Promise that will have a significant and lasting impact on WCU and the students we serve.
Through NC Promise, the state of North Carolina has redoubled its longstanding commitment to providing the people of this state with access to a top-quality, affordable college education by “buying down” the cost of undergraduate tuition at three UNC system campuses: Western Carolina University, University of North Carolina at Pembroke and Elizabeth City State University.
Beginning in fall semester 2018, the NC Promise Tuition Plan will mean that in-state undergraduate students at WCU will pay $500 per semester for tuition rather than the nearly $2,000 they pay today, and out-of-state undergraduate tuition will drop from more than $7,000 to $2,500 per semester. It’s important to note here that costs related to housing, meals and fees will not be affected by this legislation, so the total cost of attendance for in-state students living on campus will be just over $7,300 a semester, a drop from $8,800 today. See the breakdown of costs in our online FAQ.
The change is a significant one, particularly for students who depend on loans to pay for college and leave burdened with debt. At WCU, 81 percent of students are eligible for some type of financial aid, and in 2014-15 alone our students and their families borrowed $63 million to afford college. In the same year, our students graduated with an average loan debt of $20,575.
There has been some debate about what this change might mean for Western Carolina University’s future. What we know for sure is that it will increase student access by reducing student indebtedness, which will have a positive impact on students and their families as well as on the economy of North Carolina. We are confident that this change can and will have a positive impact on WCU.
Here are the Top 5 things we believe will change for WCU when NC Promise goes into effect:
1. Admission to WCU will become even more competitive. In the last five years, the number of applications we received at WCU has steadily increased, with this past year seeing an all-time high. Unlike some urban universities, WCU must take into account the availability of housing in our area and the recruitment of new faculty talent, which limits our annual enrollment growth capacity. So, each year we are able to accept a smaller percentage of our applicants. We expect our number of applications to climb even higher as parents look for the best value education for their student. Since we manage our growth based in part on capacity, acceptance to WCU will become even more competitive while at the same time we remain committed to providing an accessible, affordable education to prepared students in our region.
2. WCU will become a powerhouse for recruiting talent to the region. It’s significant that not only will in-state tuition drop from nearly $2,000 to $500 per semester but out-of-state tuition (a portion of costs) will be cut by more than half, from more than $7,000 to $2,500 per semester. Western Carolina has always been a talent magnet for the region, pulling strong students from the eastern part of the state to the west. We now expect to have a stronger position to recruit the best students from our three close border states and elsewhere in the U.S. for top programs in health care, business, engineering, teaching, the arts and more. We see that not only as a win for WCU but also as a win for the region.
3. Diversity at WCU will increase. Lowering the cost of in-state and out-of-state tuition at WCU opens the door for a diverse array of students ranging from the growing population of first-generation Latino students to rural mountain students, who for the first time will see college as a possibility, to international students . With that in mind, diversity at WCU is likely to increase in the coming years, bringing with it the kind of cultural exposure and perspective that will make our campus stronger and improve the educational experience for all students.
4. Scholarship gifts to WCU will have greater impact. Our top fundraising priority at WCU has been and will continue to be student scholarships. Even before this new legislation was proposed, we felt it was essential to make college affordable for every deserving student. We have asked our alumni and our supporters to step up to fund new scholarships for our students, and we will not waiver in continuing to ask for that support. The great news is that gifts to WCU will go even further in this new environment, which helps us grow slightly closer to meeting the massive financial needs our students face in affording the total cost of attendance.
5. Academic quality will continue to improve. Perhaps it is counterintuitive to assume that, even as we collect less in tuition receipts, we will be able to drive up our academic quality. It’s important to remember that the state of North Carolina is generously supporting the difference in tuition cost, so WCU will maintain its operational budget. And, this change will give us an advantage in recruiting top talent – including students attracted by the competitive cost and faculty drawn by the access mission and the emphasis on student excellence. This new talent will further drive up academic quality. Our accomplished alumni all over the globe personify the excellence of WCU, and we will make them ever more proud to hold a Western Carolina degree.
Do you have an opinion on NC Promise that you would like to share? Submit feedback here.
For parents of current or prospective undergraduate students, keep in mind that NC Promise will not take effect until the fall of 2018.