WCU students looking at new estimated tuition increase

The Tuition and Fees Committee announced at two recent open forums that the projected cost of attendance would rise above their previous estimates.

The new proposal, announced at forums at the UC Theatre on Nov. 16 and 17, places an increase of 17.34 percent on North Carolina resident undergraduates, and an increase of 17.32 percent on North Carolina resident graduate students. This increase translates to $520 and $580, respectively. Out-of-state students will see increases on par with the dollar amounts for in-state students. This is an increase of $326 above the previous proposal for N.C. undergraduates and $363 for N.C. graduate students.

The previous proposal discussed at open forums from Oct. 24-26 had placed a 6.5 percent increase on in-state undergraduates and graduates alike.

Dr. Sam Miller, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, led the two forums. He told the attendees that the increases come at the recommendation of the UNC Board of Governors. The Board of Governors mandated that Western Carolina perform at the average or better for graduation rates and student performance with its peer institutions, while remaining in the bottom 25 percent of the peer institutions in tuition and fees. Some of these 18 peer institutions include Pittsburgh State University, California State-Fresno, Central Connecticut State University, and Eastern Illinois University.

The UNC Board of Governors approved a one-time tuition increase to catch up to the bottom 25 percent of the peer institution. This increase will total roughly $1300 spread over four years. Miller said that the idea between comparable tuition rates to peer institutions is that Western will be able to offer an improved academic experience for its students, as well as protect the academic core of the institution.

Miller continued that he “thinks we are being required to make the increases” by the UNC Board of Governors. He said that he knew of no document that explicitly stated that Western was to make the stated increases, but it seemed that the Board of Governors was implicit that the increases needed to be made. Miller stressed that many of the factors driving the increase were out of the control of the university, and in the hands of the Board of Governors and the N.C. General Assembly.

Miller told attendees that the State of North Carolina has shifted strategies in funding the WCU over the past years, moving from a funding model that focused on enrollment and growth to one that focuses on performance.  From 2008 to 2011, WCU saw a total reduction of $32.7 million to its budget, with the largest reduction coming during the 2011-2012 year, with a reduction of $14.2 million.

Student concerns centered on the jump from a 6.5 percent increase to a 17.3 percent increase in three-weeks time. Some students, like Randall Hunt, felt that the budget shortfalls could be remedied in other ways, such as fund reappropriation and elimination of redundant administrative positions.

“I understand an increase – it’s made necessary by inflation and the state of the economy,” said Hunt. “I just don’t want the money to go where it’s currently going. I support an increase to maintain the integrity of the school, but if the increase is simply to maintain a status quo among these peer institutions, don’t do it.”

Hunt also expressed frustration with the metrics revolving around the comparisons to peer institutions, saying that he failed to see the validity in comparing Western to universities that are located in different states with different funding models.

Joe Medlin, a WCU junior, is concerned with the visible effects of the budget reduction, such as increased class size, less instructor availability and fewer course choices. He said that if a tuition increase would help alleviate those problems, it would be a necessary step.

The remaining categories in the Tuition and Fees increase proposal stay the same as what was presented from Oct. 24-26. The increases in tuition, coupled with increases in mandatory fees, residence hall costs, and meal plan costs, mean a minimum increase of $891 for N.C undergraduates and $951 for N.C. graduate students for the 2012-13 academic year.