North Carolina Budget Upholds Athlete Tuition Waiver

North Carolina taxpayers will continue to pick up the tab for granting in-state tuition to out-of-state athletes at a cost of over $10 million a year.

In a budget filled this year with tax increases and cuts to classrooms and medical services, some North Carolina lawmakers sought to include curbs on the use of state money for college athletics. The budget bars community colleges from funding their sports teams with tuition or state funds, and eliminates a small tuition break for university athletes. But it keeps another one that helps non-state residents, mainly athletes, at a cost to the state of $13.8 million a year.

The $19 billion budget eliminates a relatively small program in place since 1983 that hands out $300,000 worth of tuition waivers a year to university athletes who aren’t state residents. That’s enough for Western Carolina University to give a $950 discount to 41 students.

Another form of aid to out-of-state students involves more money though, $13.8 million, and more controversy. Last year, 992 out-of-state students paid an in-state tuition rate in the UNC-System because of a provision added to the 2005 budget. A third of them were at universities on academic scholarships, but the rest attended on athletic scholarships.

“These are athletes from all over the country, in fact all over the world, that have come here, and we treat them as if they are in-state students,” Representative Leo Daughtry, a Republican from Johnston County, told fellow House members during budget discussions, “and that greatly offends my constituents, and I believe it probably offends a number of constituents in your neck of the woods.”

Republicans like Daughtry and top House Democrats called it a subsidy for athletic booster clubs. The provision was supported by foundations like the Rams Club at UNC Chapel Hill and the Wolfpack Club at N.C. State University that raise money for athletes’ scholarships.

The funding also had the support of key Senate leaders, who kept it from being cut from the budget.

One provision in the budget passed by lawmakers, however, makes sure that tax money is adequately being used for the benefit of all students—prohibiting community colleges from using state funds for athletics. It parallels a new rule made by the community college system.

Such funding came under scrutiny in 2006 when a state probe found irregularities in work-study payments to baseball players at Blue Ridge Community College in Hendersonville, North Carolina. Later that year, state officials found Blue Ridge wrongfully spent more than $100,000 in state funds on its athletics program and ordered it to repay the money.

Community colleges were not supposed to use state money for athletics. But a task force prompted by the Blue Ridge findings recommended making that prohibition explicit in the college system’s rules, Blue Ridge spokeswoman Lee Anna Haney said.
As a result, new statewide rules took effect Aug. 1. They ban use of state funds for a sports program, free room and board for athletes and athletic scholarships that exceed student expenses.