State budget: 2 steps forward, 1 @#$%ing *HUGE* step back

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on May 18, 2010 in Student Government | Subscribe

Good evening folks! :)

First, a quick explanation for the sudden spamming of your Google Reader and other RSS clients yesterday. I usually prep an entry daily but don’t actually post it until I’ve had a chance to go through and tweak it — make sure all the spelling is correct, all the links go to the right places, the paragraphs aren’t too long, etc etc etc. It’s a tedious process, and one I’ve occasionally forgotten about or put on the backburner while handling other priorities.

That happened most of last week, hence why you got a blizzard of 5 days of updates all at once :beatup: Shouldn’t happen again any time soon (hopefully) since class tends to keep my mind focused on routine. Please accept my apologies :oops:

Now to the day’s events: the North Carolina Senate unveiled their version of the state’s budget.

The good news is that they adopted UNCASG‘s position against the 8% student tax adopted last year, joining Governor Perdue in agreeing to the request of 22,000+ students — a request recently highlighted on Forbes.com.

The potential bad news? Buried in the text of the budget bill is language authorizing the University President — in the name of offsetting budget cuts made by the Legislature — to unilaterally approve extra tuition increases of up to $750/student! :surprised:

You can read the language yourself in the latest version of the bill (Edition 3 at the time this entry was posted):

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, for the 2010-2011 fiscal year only, the constituent institutions may, with the approval of the President of The University of North Carolina, increase tuition by up to seven hundred fifty dollars ($750.00) per academic year. This increase shall be in addition to other increases authorized for the fiscal year. These funds shall be used only to offset the institutions’ management flexibility reductions.

My gut instinct tells me this was a concession to folks from the Boards of Trustees at UNC Chapel Hill and UNC School of the Arts, who have both been particularly vocal critics of the UNC Board of Governors‘s policy of capping combined tuition/fee increases at 6.5% per year.  This tuition predictability policy has worked wonders for containing the rising cost of education in North Carolina, enabling students and their families to plan ahead for their college degree and — more importantly IMO — ensuring financial aid availability can keep up with the rising cost of attendance.

But some of our more-elite institutions have argued the policy is eroding their ability to stay competitive with peer institutions in other states, and they want to raise tuition substantially higher.

They’d get their wish with this particular provision of the budget, which would basically nuke everything the BOG’s 6.5% plan put into place. Take UNCCH as an example: tuition for in-state undergraduates for 2009-10 was $3,865.00.  Add in the $200 increase the campus requested (which would take effect instead of the 8% student tax). Then this $750 goes on top of it. Tuition for 2010-11 would now be $4,815.00 — essentially a 25% increase in a single year :eek:

The language also practically guarantees that the increases will go into effect. By incorporating the “[n]otwithstanding any other provision of law” verbiage, it essentially circumvents all of the checks and balances built into the UNC system in approving the increase.  A campus’s Board of Trustees doesn’t have to request the increase; the statewide Board of Governors doesn’t have to approve it. Based on this current language, the only person that matters in determining whether the extra increases happens or not is UNC President Erskine Bowles… who already announced back in February that he’s retiring at the end of this year.

It basically enables legislators to avoid hostile parents in an election year by saying the UNC system ultimately made the decision on whether or not to increase tuition. It enables the UNC system to also avoid those same hostile parents by saying it was the Legislature that cut university funding that led to the tuition increases.

I’ve got a tremendous amount of respect for Erskine Bowles and what he has accomplished during his tenure as President of the UNC system, and I take him at his word when he says he’s “a ‘low tuition’ guy.” But I’d still prefer seeing this particular language stripped out of the budget when the House adopts their version, or at the very least have it watered down in the joint House-Senate conference committee so that a campus’s Board of Trustees has to request the increase and both the UNC President and Board of Governors have to approve it before it goes into effect.

At the very least hopefully then everyone will have time to realize how profoundly damaging a ~$950 permanent tuition increase — a 25% boost even at the most expensive public university in the state — will be to the accessibility and affordability of a quality college education in North Carolina.

My fingers are crossed on behalf of the 215,000+ students in the University that their legislators are listening…

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