Greg Doucette knows better than most just how tough it can be to pay your way through college.
Doucette, an N.C. State grad and current N.C. Central University law student, recently stepped down as the president of the Association of Student Governments, the group of student leaders from across the UNC system.
In that role, Doucette served on the UNC system's Board of Governors, where he routinely put a face to the budget-cut issue by telling his own story about struggling with tuition payments while at NCSU. He dropped out for a while, putting his college career on hold for several years.
Now, he writes of budget cuts to the UNC system proposed by both the state House and Senate. The Senate spending plan, while generally easier on the university system, still proposes a $50 million cut and would increase tuition $750.
And the House budget calls for a far larger cut. UNC President Erskine Bowles says it would result in the elimination of 1,700 jobs across the public university system.
In a letter submitted to the News & Observer, Doucette lays out his concerns.
Here it is:
It was during North Carolina's previous recession, roughly a decade ago, when the General Assembly last considered such deep cuts to our state's public universities comparable to those now proposed by the House. Unsurprisingly, those cuts led to dramatic increases in tuition rates (similar to the $750+ per student increase now proposed by the Senate) to make up for the losses in revenue.
Also unsurprisingly, those huge spikes in cost forced students like me to drop out of college entirely. It took me 5 years working low-wage jobs in the "real world" until I saved enough to return to NC State, where I graduated with my degree in Computer Science last year -- and where resident undergraduate tuition had surged 120% from the year I started until the year I came back.
How much more tax revenue would I have contributed to the state treasury had I graduated in 2004 instead of 2009? How much more tax revenue would the many students in my situation have contributed over that same time span?
I understand legislators' impulse to protect K-12 education and the other areas spared by their current budget proposals; this is an election year, after all. But legislators should understand the cuts they've proposed to the University of North Carolina will condemn many students to years of reduced earnings (especially those who live outside of the Triangle or Triad), mortgaging North Carolina's future economic health for the sake of re-election.
Students and their parents deserve better.
With warm regards,
T. Greg Doucette
The writer is a student at the N.C. Central University School of Law, and President Emeritus of the UNC Association of Student Governments.