CULLOWHEE – It was a bold move by the 2016 General Assembly – reducing tuition at three state universities to $500 a semester for in-state students, starting in the fall of 2018.

Once room, board, books and fees are taken into account, Western Carolina University Chancellor David Belcher says, the NC Promise program should reduce the total cost of attendance at Western from about $17,000 to about $14,000, for a savings of $12,000 over four years.

“That’s significant for our students,” Belcher says in the accompanying video.

Continued legislative support to replace tuition dollars the institutions will lose is “essential,” Belcher says, and legislators seem intent on keeping their promise to Western Carolina, UNC Pembroke and Elizabeth City State University.

But plenty of unknowns remain, a refreshingly candid Belcher says.

In response to the reduced sticker price, officials at Western Carolina expect a surge in applications for fall 2018.  Will they increase enrollment dramatically?  Will they raise admission standards “skyward,” as Belcher puts it, to limit the size of the freshman class?

And because of the increased competition, Belcher asks, will a university that has been passionately devoted to its region have to deny admission to students it has traditionally served?

“Western Carolina University has always been about Western North Carolina and students from this area,” Belcher says.  “We’ll try to figure out how to do this, because we want to make sure we stay true to the people of Western North Carolina, who are our primary charge.”

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