UNC BOG Series Part 1: State lawmakers are fundamentally altering higher education in North Carolina, but it’s not clear who requested the changes

The 2017-2018 Budget made waves amongst affiliates and community members of the UNC system when it became clear that significant budget cuts would impact several colleges and universities, especially the system’s five HBCUs.

Since 2011 the UNC system has dealt with cuts,including $414 million in 2011 after Republicans gained control of the legislature. The system faced financial aid tuition revenue caps and the consolidation of 46 degree programs. The original version of the 2017 Budget included a $4 million cut to the UNC School of Law that was reduced to $500,000 in compromises before the budget’s final passage. Senate Bill 99, the 2018 Budget, included new changes to create the NC Promise Plan.

The NC Promise Plan was sold as an attempt to address the growing college affordability crisis. Claims of enrollment increases at impacted universities have sparked celebrations of the renewed accessibility of higher education in NC. However, the budget language about NC Promise is cause for concern about the longevity of the universities impacted 

Section 10.5 G.S. 116-143.11 says “the State shall ‘buy down’ the amount of any financial obligation resulting from the established tuition rate that may be incurred by Elizabeth City State University, the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, and Western Carolina…” A buy down is a mortgage-financing technique where the buyer attempts to obtain a lower interest rate. According to Business Insider, buy downs usually cause the property seller to raise the purchase price to compensate for the costs of the buy down.

NC Promise appears to drastically lower tuition and bring more students to universities. The “buy down” concept means the plan will ultimately come at their expense. This year, the total fees at UNC Pembroke have risen for both in-state and out-of-state undergraduates. To many students at UNC Pembroke, the majority of whom are Indigenous/Native and Black, even a small increase can make the difference between whether they choose to attend. At Elizabeth City State University the athletics fee, health insurance fee, housing application fee, room fees, and meal plans have risen. 

Critics of NC Promise say it defunds HBCUs and universities historically known for educating indigenous/Native students. Senate Bill 873, which was ultimately rolled into S99, impacted Elizabeth City State University, Fayetteville State University, UNC-Pembroke, Winston-Salem State University, and Western Carolina University.

NC Promise, cuts to the system, and changes that shroud the hiring process for Chancellors in secrecy fall along the same lines as the NC Promise Plan; they are sold as improvements to the system, but upon closer inspection could have detrimental impact, especially on students of color and low-income students. In our next part of this series we’ll take a look at who might be pushing for these changes.