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Rick Niswander, vice chancellor for Administration and Finance at East Carolina University, presented the ECU administration proposal for the tuition and fee increase Dec. 1. The ECU Board of Trustees voted Dec. 2 on its recommendation to increase tuition and fees for all students in 2012-13. (Photo by Cliff Hollis)

AT THE TIPPING POINT
ECU Board of Trustees recommends tuition increase

By Jeannine Manning Hutson
ECU News Services

After more than 45 minutes of debate, the East Carolina University Board of Trustees, on a 7-5 split vote, proposed a tuition and fee increase for all students for the 2012-13 academic year.

The trustees’ Dec. 2 proposal of an increase of 9.5 percent for N.C. resident undergraduate students and 9.9 percent for all other student categories will now go to the University of North Carolina Board of Governors for consideration. The trustees also approved a $95 increase in fees for all students.

The debate centered on asking students and their families to shoulder another increase in tuition and fees against the need to protect the quality of education that the university will be able to provide in the current financial climate.

Bobby Owens of Manteo, who joined the board this year, expressed the angst that his fellow trustees seem to feel in facing the vote to raise tuition.

Owens said he knows that people are “suffering in North Carolina and all over the country. I’ve labored over this, but I believe you either regress, stay the same, or move forward. How long are we going to hold the line and keep moving backwards? We have to move forward. This move has to be done. ”  

The full-time tuition increases for the 2012-13 academic year, plus an increase of $95 in fees for all students, are as follows, if approved:

  • Undergraduate, N.C.-resident students will pay $410 more in tuition for a total increase of $505, or 9.5 percent increase.

  • Undergraduate, non-resident students will pay $1,645 more in tuition for a total increase of $1,740, or 9.9 percent increase.

  • Graduate, N.C.-resident students will pay $452 more in tuition for a total increase of $547, or 9.9 percent increase.

  • Graduate, non-resident students will pay $1,489 more in tuition for a total increase of $1,584, or 9.9 percent increase.

Tuition increases were also approved for the Brody School of Medicine, $1,500, and the School of Dental Medicine, $1,365.

Steve Ballard, who is his eighth year as ECU chancellor, said after the meeting that the decision to raise tuition and fees is never easy for the board or the administrators who are asked to make their recommendations.

“We had to raise tuition because we’re at the tipping point of quality and to not do it really hurts the student experience more than the cost factor,” said Ballard. “I think Josh Martinkovic, the student representative, said it very well that this is the lesser of two evils. Everybody in the room today saw it as two evils.

“Maintaining the quality and maintaining the faculty is what we have to do,” Ballard said. “Today was the day that we had to decide on what the students could bear, and we came to some balance of it. But again, it’s the lesser of two evils,” Ballard said.

One of the most vocal critics of increasing tuition was trustee Mark Tipton of Raleigh, who worried what an increase in tuition would mean for students whose families are struggling financially.

“This economic recession didn’t just fall on us. We’ve been sitting here for years; I’ve been on the board for six years and been saying we need to do more in the form of public-private partnerships. We knew this was coming. What are we going to do next year?” he asked.

Trustee Joel Butler of Greenville said, “We don’t have the luxury of less any more. Since I’ve been on this board, we’ve always kept the tuition as low as possible. Looking at our peer group, we’re the lowest cost and the best value. At what point do you begin to impact quality?”

Rick Niswander, vice chancellor for administration and finance, detailed the administration’s proposal for the amount of the tuition and fee increase during a lunchtime presentation Thursday.

The former dean of the College of Business explained the financial hurdle that the university faces this way: ECU is selling $1 hamburgers for 30 cents. The price of the university’s product isn’t the cost to produce it. The state makes up the difference between what a student pays and what it costs the university to provide his or her education.

“The price people are paying for their education when they are writing that tuition and fee check is not the cost of that education,” he said.

“Last year, ECU had $49 million cut (in state appropriations) and a $9 million increase in tuition,” Niswander said. “Doing the math, you’re still $40 million short. Even at the recommended level (of this proposed increase), the amount of money going to the operating side of this enterprise only adds another $9 million to $9.5 million. So by the time you get to the end of the next fiscal year, you’re still $30 million short.”

Regarding the $49 million cut in state appropriations last year, Ballard said,
“We had no account to take that from. That comes right out of the academic core.  It comes out of what we can do for our students. It comes out of our faculty. We’re losing great faculty to other states that we don’t want to lose and that we wouldn’t ordinarily lose,” he said.

During the fall semester, the university eliminated 180 course sections that students need to compete in a global economy, Ballard said.

“We’re at the tipping point today between quality and the cost of education,” he said. “We have to make some choices to protect that quality.”

Another major financial factor facing the university in the coming year is that no enrollment growth funding is anticipated, Ballard said. “For the first time in my time here at East Carolina University, we think it’s likely -- it won’t be decided until May or June -- that there will be no money for increased enrollment,” he said.

“I think it’s clear to say that with other sources of revenue not available, the loss of $50 million this year and cumulative loss over four straight years of budget cuts has been devastating to the potential academic quality of East Carolina University. As Erskine Bowles has often said, ‘Affordability without quality is no bargain.’”

Other UNC-system schools are facing the same struggle to meet the financial needs on their campuses with limited state resources.

The UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees voted in November to recommend an increase of $800, or 15.6 percent, for undergraduate North Carolina resident student tuition next year. Their plan raises most student tuition by at least $2,800 over the next five years, according to the News & Observer.

At N.C. State University, trustees also voted to send a recommendation of a tuition increase to the UNC Board of Governors. Tuition for in-state undergraduates would rise at least 29 percent over the next five academic years, according to a published report in the News & Observer. Student fees will also increase $84.45 next fall.

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