Tuition Increases and Academic Quality
Let’s get to the bad news first. ECU has requested and President Bowles has approved large tuition increases for both this academic year (2010-11) and for next (2011-12). Undergraduate students who are North Carolinians will pay $300 more than we expected in just tuition (plus a fee increase). About six months ago, the Board of Governors approved a $90 tuition increase. So, tuition goes up $390 this year and at least $263 more for next year. Out-of-state undergraduate students will have the biggest increase this year ($1,630), and all graduate students will have large percentage increases.
This is hard for many of us, including me, to accept. I have been a low-tuition chancellor and have been proud of that. The reason is that access to higher education is central to what we stand for at ECU. Students cannot be successful if they can’t afford to attend in the first place. Over the last three years, our tuition for in-state undergraduates has risen only 2.5% total. In the University of North Carolina system, tuition has increased on average 9% over this three-year period. Nationally, many public universities have seen much higher tuition increases. Tuition at California state universities will be 39% higher than just two years ago. In the Wisconsin system, increases over the last four years exceed 20%. Florida’s state universities are allowed to increase tuition by 15% this year.
So, what causes these large tuition increases at ECU? The simple and compelling reason is that we will not sacrifice academic quality. It is better to raise tuition, even by amounts that are too high and too rapid, than to compromise our commitment to student success. That success requires great faculty, academic programs that are relevant and strong, and opportunities for students to be who they want to be.
After three years of continuous budget cuts, student dreams have been put in jeopardy. ECU has lost $106 million in state dollars over a three-year period (2008, 2009, and 2010). Non-state sources of revenue also have been severely restricted, especially many of our endowment and scholarship accounts. To try to prevent tuition increases, we have cut virtually all non-academic areas to the bone. Last year, we reduced our budget by $41.7 million. Of that reduction, $19.1 million was a permanent budget reduction and 92% of the permanent reduction came from administrative areas. We have been a leader in the system in conservation, efficiency improvements, and state-of-the-art business practices. The policy of our Board of Trustees requires that we protect the academic core to the maximum extent possible, and we have done so.
So, after these revenue losses and facing the reality that academic programs were next to be cut, we have decided to ask students to pay more for their education. While that is not our desired choice, we must keep in mind that East Carolina University remains an excellent academic environment and a great academic bargain. For example, compared to all UNC system universities with at least 10,000 FTE students (seven universities), ECU has the lowest tuition and the lowest total of tuition and fees. Our tuition this year will be almost $2,000 lower than both N.C. State and Chapel Hill. ECU is also compared to 15 other public universities in a “peer group,” consisting of universities of similar size and comparable programs. They include Northern Illinois, Ohio University, Western Michigan, and Louisville. In this peer group, we are the second lowest in both undergraduate and graduate tuition and fees. We are almost $3,000 below the average cost of these peer institutions. All told, our students will pay less than 25% of the total cost of their education this year.
The new revenues generated from the tuition increase will go primarily to replacing the $10.8 million base cut imposed by the legislature this year. In other words, it will allow us to maintain average class size, retain excellent faculty, and provide the necessary academic services for our students so they have all the support they need to be successful. The remaining 20% of the tuition dollars goes to financial aid so that students with the greatest financial needs will have more support. We remain committed to finding other funds for financial aid. This year we are funding 75 students with access scholarships of $5,000 each. These scholarships go to students who could not afford ECU without help.
Our public universities are vital to the future of North Carolina. We are committed to providing access to North Carolinians, excellent programs when they arrive, and every possible chance of attaining the degrees and the competencies they need for their future.