The UNC system's governing board meets Tuesday to talk about tuition hikes for this fall at public universities. But unlike most of the times when the board deliberates over tuition hikes, it will wield no real power.
The General Assembly, in a special provision tucked into the recently-approved state budget, allowed campuses to increase tuition by as much as $750 as a way of mitigating their portions of a $70 million cut to the UNC system's budget.
But according to the language of the provision, those tuition hikes need only UNC system President Erskine Bowles' approval, not the usual "yes" vote from the governing board.
Still, Bowles and the campuses are expected to brief board members Tuesday on whether they want to raise tuition for the 2010-11 school year and if so, by how much. The $750 in extra tuition would come along with a $200 increase already approved for the coming school year.
It isn't yet clear whether all campuses want to increase tuition. Chancellors Holden Thorp at UNC-Chapel Hill and Randy Woodson at N.C. State have each said tuition hikes were likely, though it isn't yet known whether they'll seek the entire $750.
The university system received a $70 million budget cut for 2010-11, and legislators offered up the tuition hike provision as a way for campuses to raise revenue.
University officials, who prior to the state budget's approval feared a far larger cut, now face the prospect of tuition hikes as the only way to raise enough money to protect classroom instruction.
"Every part of this is distressing," said Hannah Gage, chairwoman of the UNC system's Board of Governors. "If you had told me five years ago I'd be pleased with a $70 million budget cut, I'd say you need to be committed. Is anybody excited about this? No. But the board does feel strongly that there is some [academic] quality erosion occurring. We're not doing anything extravagant. We're doing it to protect instruction."
The tuition provision could create problems for campuses. It stipulates that 20 percent of revenue raised be used for need-based financial aid. But campuses routinely hold back 30 percent or more for aid since when rates go up, more students qualify for financial assistance.