PEMBROKE — A measure that would cut tuition at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke would further the university’s “mission of changing lives through education,” Chancellor Robin Cummings said in a letter to students and staff on Tuesday.
The tuition reduction has drawn criticism from those who worry it would devalue diplomas from the three schools it affects and even threaten their existence if promised state funding is ever reduced or eliminated.
“While I believe this plan will be significant and positive for UNC Pembroke, I recognize the anxiety that comes with change and uncertainty,” Cummings said in his letter, addressed to the “BraveNation.” “But as an institution symbolized by bravery, I implore us to be strong and seize this opportunity.”
The N.C. Promise Tuition Plan would lower tuition to $500 per semester for in-state students and $2,500 a semester for out-of-state students at three schools, including UNCP, beginning with the fall 2018 semester
Introduced in May, the plan would have originally lowered tuition at Elizabeth City State University, Fayetteville State University, UNCP, Winston-Salem State University and Western Carolina University.
Following backlash from students, alumni and staff, as well as the North Carolina NAACP, Elizabeth City State University, Fayetteville State University and Winston-Salem State University, all historically black, were removed from the bill. Their chancellors and students spoke out against lowering the tuition because they believe making universities cheaper to attend would cheapen the value of the institution as well as the degrees it awards.
Elizabeth City State University has been added back into the bill at its own request.
According to Cummings’ letter, some members of the UNCP community have similar concerns. He said some students worry if tuition is cheaper, the school might cut some degree programs it currently offers.
“We can say with certainty, our academic programs will not be adversely affected, nor will our students’ ability to complete their degrees,” Cummings said.
The tuition reduction is included in a 2016-2017 budget compromise the Senate approved on Tuesday. The budget still needs approval from the House and the governor.
According to Cummings’ letter, the legislature will match the difference between the N.C. Promise tuition and the full tuition price. The budget includes $40 million to offset the loss of tuition revenue at the three schools, as well as a one-time appropriation of $675,000 for UNCP.
Current tuition for an in-state resident attending UNCP is about $3,531 a year, and tuition for an out-of-state student is $14,475.
Cummings said the lowered tuition will help UNCP and the UNC system achieve their goals of making higher education more affordable.
“While we honor our heritage, we are proudly among the most diverse universities in the nation. And the North Carolina Promise Tuition Plan will allow us to be among the most affordable,” Cummings said. “UNC Pembroke has always been distinctive. There is no campus in the nation like ours. This opportunity will allow us to further distinguish ourselves and serve as a role model for the future of high quality, accessible higher education. This is a tool we can use for even greater impact. Together, we are writing a new chapter for UNC Pembroke and Southeastern North Carolina.”
The legislation was introduced by Sen. Tom Apodaca, a Republican who represents the 48th District. Apodaca, a graduate of Western Carolina, said he believed the legislation would help some students who otherwise could not afford to do so attend college and was disappointed when he was accused of trying to starve the targeted schools through decreased funding.
An Hispanic, Apodaca said he was even called a bigot for introducing the legislation.