RALEIGH – Perhaps because it has a constitutional mandate for it, North Carolina is known for support of its public universities. The state continues to rank among the best in state spending per student.
But state support per student is still well below where it was before the Great Recession. And what doesn’t come from the state increasingly comes from increased tuition and fees. Despite its tradition, the state is shifting the burden of paying for an education to students and their families.
State spending per student in the University of North Carolina System peaked in 2003-04 at $12,208 (in constant 2016 dollars). With the recession, it began a steady slide until it reached $9,652 per student in 2014-15. It has since climbed to $9,863 – a slight improvement, but well short of pre-recession levels.
With repeated reductions in state support, institutions began increasing tuition and fees.
There are some encouraging developments, however: In 2016, state universities began to offer fixed undergraduate tuition for eight semesters. In fall 2018, in-state tuition was lowered to just $500 a semester at Western Carolina, UNC Pembroke and Elizabeth City State universities.1
And after state legislators approved an overall increase of 6% in funds for the UNC System in May, President Margaret Spellings called the budget the best UNC budget in a decade.2
Graduation rates are also climbing. Officials report that in the past year, the five-year graduation rate across the UNC System has rose from 65.7% to 70.2% – exceeding the national average for public universities by 8% and meeting a five-year goal in a single year.3
The heart of any university is the folks who teach our kids. UNC institutions once aimed to rank in the top 25% among their peer institutions in faculty salaries.
But a survey conducted in 2015 found that average faculty salaries at 11 of the state’s 16 universities fell below the median paid by their peers.4 The System’s flagships – UNC Chapel Hill and NC State University – would require raises of roughly 6% just to reach the midpoint among their peers.
Yes, we have strong public universities in North Carolina with state support that’s envied by many. At a time when two-thirds of the state’s jobs are projected to require education beyond high school by 2020,5 these investments are vital.
If it wants to compete, rather than be average, North Carolina must continue to invest in the University and its students.
5https://cew.georgetown.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Recovery2020.SR_.Web_.pdf, p. 3.