WCU raises tuition to offset state budget cuts

To help offset the impact of budget cuts recently authorized by the N.C. General Assembly, Western Carolina University will raise in-state undergraduate tuition and fees by 17.5 percent beginning with the fall semester.

A special provision of the state budget allows UNC campuses to increase tuition by as much as $750 for the 2010-11 academic year, a measure intended to help address a $70 million cut to the UNC system’s budget. Western Carolina’s plan includes raising tuition by $572.80 for 2010-11, in addition to a $137 increase in campus-initiated tuition previously approved by the UNC Board of Governors.

“This is a difficult decision,” WCU Chancellor John W. Bardo said. “However, even with this increase, our overall tuition rates will be low compared to our public peer institutions and other UNC campuses similar to us in size and mission. Most importantly, this would enable us to protect the quality of the academic experience. Access without quality is not a good buy for our students.”

The tuition increase at WCU, designed to help protect the university’s academic core and preserve the quality of the student academic experience, is expected to generate approximately $3.8 million according to Chuck Wooten, Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance. Eighty percent of the increase–-or $3.1 million—will be used to prevent the loss of 32.2 faculty positions at WCU, while 20 percent of the increase—or $775,000—will be set aside for need-based financial aid.

In all, Wooten said he was satisfied with the budget the N.C. General Assembly agreed on. At one time, the proposed House budget would have created a $175 million gap for UNC school systems, forcing the state to cut over 1,700 jobs, leaving faculty and staff stranded in an economic crisis. 

“The Senate’s budget was what we were hoping for. The original Senate budget was to cut $54 million from the UNC school system, but reluctantly the House and the Senate were able to meet at $70 million in last week’s Conference Committee,” said Wooten.

Wooten went on to say that this year’s budget cut is nothing compared to last years. In response to budget cuts and reversions during the 2009-10 fiscal year, Western Carolina eliminated or froze 94 positions, primarily in administrative areas, and had to increase class size in some academic disciplines. This year, class size and layoffs are not expected and furloughs will not be mandated.

“Last year it was very tough. We were forced to make a lot tough decisions and let a lot of people go. This year I feel like we are much more prepared for budget cuts and were all grateful we won’t have to lay anyone off,” said Wooten. With the tuition increase, a North Carolina undergraduate student at Western Carolina will now pay $5,337.80 in required tuition and fees per academic year, while a North Carolina graduate student will pay $5,451.80. Nonresident undergraduates will pay $14,934.80, while nonresident graduate students will pay $15,036.80.

WCU students can expect to receive their bills for the upcoming school year today, Friday, July 23—which is about a week later than normal due to the changes in tuition. 

(Western Carolinian staff writer David Salinas contributed to this report.)