Higher education faces plenty of challenges, especially these days. But when you talk to students and parents, there is one concern that looms above all others.
The runaway cost of college over the past two decades is the central issue when it comes to expanding opportunity and meeting our core mission. Nothing else comes close.
Rising tuition not only undermines access to education. It also erodes public trust, increases the anxiety families feel about providing for their children, and makes it harder to develop the talent we need to drive economic growth.
We should all be proud that North Carolina remains a happy outlier when it comes to these trends. Thanks to the diligent efforts of this Board, working in partnership with the lawmakers and the citizens of this state, the System has kept a tight lid on tuition, with four straight years of flat tuition. We’ve also launched an unprecedented experiment in drastically reducing tuition at three of our institutions, proving that “up” isn’t the only direction costs can move.
It’s an enviable record of keeping tuition low, and I thank the Board of Governors for their commitment to affordability.
But tuition is just one part of the equation.
At many of our institutions, fees are nearly as expensive as tuition. From health to athletics to security, fees support vital aspects of student life and campus operations. But they also add a layer of complexity for families paying for a college education.
We also charge different tuition rates for credit hours earned in-person and those earned online, even though we know that line is increasingly blurry. And these two streams of revenue—tuition and fees—are subject to very different rules. These different “buckets of money” make it difficult to plan and find the highest and best use of resources.
The current tuition and fee model has evolved over many years, often in an ad-hoc way to answer emerging needs on our campuses. It’s time for a comprehensive review.
I believe this Task Force can give our campus leaders more flexibility to budget and plan; give students and families more transparency about costs and more options for how they want to participate in campus life; and give lawmakers and taxpayers more clarity about how we’re managing costs.
Through no fault of our own, we’re entering a season of hard choices. The coronavirus pandemic and the economic hardship following in its wake will mean difficult decisions for families, for campus leaders, for our state.
Our responsibility is to make sure those choices are driven by a real sense of mission, a realistic ordering of priorities. I look forward to working with Chair Mitchell and the rest of this group to ensure our approach to tuition and fees meets the needs of students and strengthens our institutions.