Faculty from the University of North Carolina System have levied heavy criticism of proposed legislation to cut tuition costs and rebrand several system institutions, including three historically black universities.
In a letter to System President Margaret Spellings, the UNC Faculty Assembly laid out statistical evidence of the state’s disinvestment in higher education, the rising costs for individual students and families, and how cuts would not fill in the gaps to stave off program deactivation or closure of some schools as a result of the SB873 proposal.
The assertion that “many college graduates still find they must use funds for the high cost of educational debt that ordinarily could be set aside for family and home expenses” does not acknowledge that highly unfavorable terms of financial aid for students, or the fact that the UNC Board of Governors capped availability of financial aid for in-need students, are significant in determining the debt-burdens students must bear.
In addition, the legislation does not acknowledge that the average NC student debt of $23,440 is significantly lower than the national average, that college costs have a respectable return on investment for students, who can expect numerous benefits to their quality of life from their college experience, including an average income return of $17,500 per year above those without higher education, and that the cost curve of higher education is in line with comparable goods and services.
Finally, the claim that students who do not earn a degree “strain their financial resources” while receiving “no benefit” is misleading, as is the assertion that the “cost of dropping out, measured in lost earnings in taxes, [is] $4.5 billion”: Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that postsecondary education, even without a degree, increases income and reduces the chances of being unemployed. Moreover, the costs of never attending any college are far greater than those incurred from dropping out.
The News & Observer reports that republican legislators view the deal as a short term plan to spur enrollment in struggling schools like Elizabeth City State University.
“I don’t understand how anybody can be upset when the legislature goes out of its way to try to figure out how to give a kid a sustainable tuition,” added (Harry Smith, chairman of the Board of Governors’ Budget and Finance Committee), who participated in early discussions about the legislation and called it “a great deal.”
The letter became public one day after members of North Carolina’s National Pan-Hellenic Council organizations rallied in support of HBCUs before the state general assembly.