RALEIGH, N.C. – North Carolina lawmakers have re-included one historically black university in an experimental program to cut tuition to just $500 a semester for in-state students at some University of North Carolina campuses.
House and Senate leaders announced Monday night as part of the two chambers’ budget compromise that tuition cuts for in-state students would apply to students at Elizabeth City State University in addition to Western Carolina University and University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
The bill would lower tuition to $500 a semester for in-state students and $2,500 a semester for out-of-state students at the three universities with the expressed aim of increasing access to affordable education and boosting enrollment at campuses that needed it.
The original proposal by Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, also included historically black universities Fayetteville State and Winston-Salem State, but received such vehement pushback from students, alumni and civil rights groups who argued it would cheapen the quality and reputation of their degrees that Apodaca excluded all three historically black universities from the bill last month.
Senate leader Phil Berger said leaders reintroduced Elizabeth City State University to the final budget compromise because administrators and chancellors requested it. Berger said that, of the three historically black universities, lawmakers believed Elizabeth City State would benefit most from the enrollment increases low tuition would prompt.
Apodaca said he believes the situation at Elizabeth City State University has reached “critical.” A March audit showed sharp drops in enrollment and administrative shortfalls. In the 2015 fall semester, only 232 of the 1,186 freshmen admitted actually enrolled.
“They need something to build them up, and we got to keep them,” Apodaca said. “They’re a valuable asset to the state.”
North Carolina NAACP President Rev. William Barber, who has been a harsh critic of the bill, said tuition decreases signal cuts in programs and services for the universities that typically serve African-Americans and minorities. Barber called the plan a “shell game” and said meaningful change would include expanding Medicaid and increasing minimum wage to allow families to better afford college tuition.
Apodaca has said the General Assembly would commit this year to continue financing programs affected by tuition reductions. The budget includes up to $40 million to offset tuition reductions.
The budget also would guarantee no tuition increases for in-state UNC students who finish their degrees within a standard four year time frame, and limit student fee increases to a maximum of three percent a year.