RALEIGH — Historically black universities are out of a bill slashing tuition at some schools to $500, but concerns about the legislation’s effects remain high at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, one of two state schools still facing tuition cuts.
As proposed, Senate Bill 87 would have cut 2018 tuition to $500 per semester for in-state students and $2,500 for out-of-state students, while considering removing North Carolina’s 18 percent cap on out-of-state students. Those provisions would have impacted five institutions: Elizabeth City State University, Fayetteville State University, The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, Winston-Salem State University and Western Carolina University.
Undergraduate in-state tuition per semester at those institutions for 2016-17 ranges from $2,800 for Elizabeth City State to $3,893 for Western Carolina.
Supporters say the initial bill would attract more students to colleges struggling with enrollment and finances. But critics said the bill sought to rewrite those schools identities and deprive them of important tuition dollars. In fact, the prominence of historically black colleges in the bill drew protests from students and alumni, as well as the North Carolina NAACP.
“This bill attacks people of color directly. The goal is clear: disperse these centers of cultural, intellectual, and political power, and disrupt the mission of HBCUs by bankrupting them,” said North Carolina NAACP President Rev. William Barber.
State Rep. Garland Pierce had also expressed concerns about the impact of the bill titled the “Access to Affordable College Education Act.” He described the bill as “a covert and indirect way” to undermine HBCUs and would eventually lead to those school being phased out.
Pierce and the group he chairs — the North Carolina Legislative Black Caucus — recently held a press conference and rally to voice their opposition to the bill.
“It’s never too late to do the right thing,” the Wagram Democrat said last week. “The Legislative Black Caucus is here and prepared to fight and to do all we can with the negotiations surrounding SB873.”
As a result of the criticism, the bill’s sponsor, Republican state Sen. Tom Apodaca, said he would remove the historically black universities from the proposed tuition restrictions. But he said he wanted to keep Western Carolina, his alma mater, and UNC Pembroke, which has traditionally served American Indian students, in the tuition program.
“We can certainly spend that $70 million somewhere else,” he said.
Robin Cummings, the chancellor at UNCP, has said he sees advantages to the legislation, but is withholding his support until he is guaranteed that the university will not lose funding.
“We appreciate the intention of the bill is to adjust tuition to assist students in affording the opportunity a high-quality education provides,” Cummings said in a statement. “This supports our state’s commitment to providing an affordable education. However, many of you have expressed concerns about possible unintended consequences of the bill, such as the potential effect on our value and brand. I agree this is a valid concern.
He added that UNCP would not support any proposal that reduces tuition without a provision to replace the lost revenue.
“These are the issues we believe should be addressed through continued dialogue,” He said. “We are hopeful the ongoing discussions will result in an opportunity to build on our historic mission of access, affordability and student success.”