Want to know what is popular right now? Free college! Specifically free college tuition. The topic is front and center in the national political debate. There are students marching in the streets protesting high college costs and student loan debt. Article after article being written about “is college worth the cost?” With all of this buzz around college tuition and reining in the cost of attending college you would think that NC Senate Bill 873 would be a home run, especially with me. I speak all around the country on different college campuses showing students how to handle money so that when they graduate from college they can pay off their student loans fast! My overall goal for high school students and college students is that they graduate with the least amount of debt possible. I should be jumping for joy and cheering on NC Senate Bill 873. But i’m not and more than likely never will be.
This legislation has called for flat tuition of $1,000 a year for in-state students and $5,000 a year for out of state students. At first glance this bill looks like North Carolina is jumping ahead of the rest of the country and providing affordable college tuition for future students, but when you really look at it you will see the tricks hidden within. What you need to know first are the schools involved in the flat tuition bill. Are all the public higher ed institutions in North Carolina a part of this new idea? Nope. Only Elizabeth City State University, Fayetteville State University, Winston Salem State University, UNC Pembroke, and Western Carolina University are “lucky” enough to have this opportunity.
North Carolina has the most four year HBCUs in the country with ten and three of them are included in this new flat tuition bill. Elizabeth City State University triggered my suspicion from the beginning because in 2014 the NC Senate tried to close ECSU down through a hidden budget provision. There was such an outcry from alumni and other groups that the provision was voted out of the bill. That didn’t work so what is next?
How about put ECSU in this flat tuition bill with these other schools and make it look like the state is coming up with a plan to increase enrollment and get ECSU back on good financial terms. The problem with this plan is that while the state may be trying to trick ECSU into closing in the future it is also going to risk closing the other four colleges as well! Two disclosures: I don’t know if the senate really understands what will happen by trying to pass this bill. I also went to a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) South Carolina State University, but I am not writing about this article only because there are three HBCUs involved. That is a big part, but it is not nearly the most disturbing of this situation.
It is about all the hurt that will come in the future if this bill passes. There are a lot of smart people in the senate and at these Higher Ed institutions and they can’t possibly think this is a good idea that will benefit everyone. Now most of the articles discussing Senate Bill 873 just talks about the surface, but I want to go deeper, I want to go to the personal side.
Look At The Numbers
Elizabeth City State University
In-State Tuition/Including Room-Board Out-of-State Tuition/Including R-B
Fayetteville State University:
Winston Salem State University:
Western Carolina University:
Under this new tuition plan each school is losing between $1800.00-$3650.00 in tuition per in-state student and $4800.00-$10,000.00 in tuition per out of state student. Where is the missing money going to come from in the future? The state? Not likely since NC state funding is down $100 million dollars since the “Great Recession.” The endowments of the institutions? I doubt any of the five institutions have that kind of money in an endowment. I doubt any public institution in North Carolina has that type of endowment to sustain for the long term. Will alumni fill the hole? Not a chance. So how will the missing money magically reappear?
It won’t! This is where the hurt starts. There are people in North Carolina, people around the country cheering this bill on because they like the word “affordable”, but this is not affordable this plan unsustainable. You can’t do math if you are cheering on this bill. Or maybe you can do math because you see where the money is going to come from. Hmmm…
This bill if passed would go into effect in 2018. Let’s say that each institution had the same budget for 2018 that they had in 2017 how would everything be paid for if there is less money? It wouldn’t. What would happen is that there would be cuts affecting every part of campus! If adjunct professors thought they were being paid nothing before wait until more cuts have to be made. Everyone from the President/Chancellor on down will have to take a pay cut. I wonder if those who work at these institutions could afford less money in their paychecks? Underperforming or low number programs would be cut to save money. Athletic departments would take a financial hit. People would surely lose their jobs. In any business when expenses outpace money coming in then that business starts to cut and they always start with people because people are the most expensive. Their salaries and healthcare cost being eliminated bring immediate savings. Higher Ed educates our future, but it is also a business and it will conduct itself as so when needed.
Those in support of the bill say that the low tuition cost will bring in a lot of students and in turn more money. A massive increase in students means more professors to teach them, more services to serve them, more buildings to house them. How will it all be paid for? The tuition cut makes it impossible. When I am hired to speak I make sure my fee not only fits the value that I bring, but it also covers all of my expenses so that I have money left over because I run a business! What if I charged a flat fee of $500 for all colleges no matter who they were? I would not be in business because my travel expenses alone would exceed that!
When the cuts come faculty and staff won’t be the only ones hurt, the students will feel some discomfort as well. At each one of these institutions there will be programs that will have to be cut because of cost. When those programs are cut then the students within those programs will lose and imagine if those students are juniors and seniors who are close to graduation. I have seen this happen at other colleges and it is unfair to those students who have worked hard only to find themselves scrambling to find another school with their major so they can graduate! Supporters of the bill will say that the students are winning because of the low tuition. Last time I checked there are other fees, room and board, and meal plans that have to be paid for and that is the real cost. For example what if we eliminate tuition completely from Elizabeth City State University? Students still have to come up with $11,852.00! The same goes for the rest of the institutions. The same goes for all of Higher Ed!
Everyone in each one of these communities should be angry about this bill because it is threatening to remove these institutions and their students. Elizabeth City State University is the third largest employer in that city. Western Carolina University brings in an estimated $511 million dollars for the city from the spending of students, visitors, and alumni. These institutions also bring diversity to the community and jobs. If you take the institution and the students away from these cities then it would have a ripple effect that even the mayor will feel. Imagine the talent that come from these schools that end up staying in the city to enhance the environment and create more jobs. Close these schools and watch talent growth slow down significantly.
The North Carolina Senate and possibly the institutions don’t see the PR nightmare they are stepping into. North Carolina has not been seen in a positive light when it comes to K-12 education and now with this bill they could be seen as an enemy to HBCUs and Higher Ed in general. When these schools close it will point to bill 873 as the start of their downfall and it will be said that it was the plan all along. On the other hand if the institutions have agreed to the bill because they know they will make up the cost with higher fees, room and board, and meals then they will be looked at as “bait and switch” culprits. Either way someone is going to take the blame and the news coverage and outrage from the public will not be pretty.
There are many solutions, but this article is already long enough so I will just give a few. If you want to bring more money into the institutions start with the students and their families before they get on campus. The three HBCU’s in this bill have 74, 77, and 78% Pell eligible students and that means that they have a higher percentage of students not paying out of pocket. In the past that was fine because the money came from loans, but as many colleges seen a couple of years ago depending on some loans may eliminate half of your freshman class. A few years ago the Parent Plus loans added new guidelines which made it harder for parents to take out loans for their children to attend college. Many parents all over the country were denied the money forcing a lot of students to drop out for a semester or more!
The goal should be to make sure parents don’t have to depend on a parent plus loan, but they actually have some if not most of the money for college. Higher Ed institutions who invest in their surrounding communities and their state with personal finance can decrease some of the future headaches that may come their way from a student who can’t pay their bill. If you are a school that has a lot of in-state students then it is an investment worth making and the return will be increased revenue and graduation rates. It will be an increase in alumni with little to no student debt who are able to pay it forward in the form of donations!
The last solution that I will share is that these institutions as well as others start to course correct before more state bills pass that force you to course correct into closure. Start to make the necessary cuts needed across campus so that you won’t have to fire faculty and staff if there is a reduction in enrollment or some other financial catastrophe. If you lower your costs then any rise in attendance will only add to your financial success.
Bill 873 is not going to help these institutions at all. It is not the solution. If it was a solution all the public Higher Ed institutions in North Carolina would be involved. UNC Chapel Hill would be trying to figure out how to fill their in-state tuition hole of $5,400.00 and out of state hole of $26,000.00! They would never be included in this bill, because they cant afford it! The solutions are more complex for Higher Ed and unfortunately no one is talking about that.