February 10th, 2012

What Tuition Hikes Mean for Some Students

Today, the UNC Board of Governors approved tuition hikes for all 16 system universities for the 2012-2013 school year. The vote must still must pass through state lawmakers but it could mean up to an 8.8% spike in tuition costs for students.

A recent college grad of the UNC school system, I finished debt free in four years, and all of the credit goes to my parents. I was fortunate enough to be in a situation where they could send me to school and support me. But they were also firm. (I paid my mother back in full for a class that I got a “D” in sophomore year, because she declared she wasn’t paying for C’s and D’s). 

I worked hard in college. I had just as much fun too—I can safely say they were some of the best times in my life. I am also completely indebted to my folks for putting me in a position to graduate relatively DEBT-FREE. It is because of this that I can clearly see both sides of the coin-those that had to pay their own way, and those that didn’t. While a sizable portion of the students out there pay part or even all of their own way through school, there still is a large portion that doesn’t.

And that’s understandable. While your high school guidance counselor says that you still have a “great shot” at a scholarship even if your parents make above a certain amount, chances are Mom and Dad don’t have enough lying around for some schools. 

Despite that, the UNC school system has always been incredibly affordable next to schools around the country. Louisiana and Florida boast some of the lowest rates for in-state students at places like UF and LSU, but Carolina isn’t far behind. I’ll direct many references in this post to UNC-Chapel Hill, the “flagship” university where this debate takes center stage. In the grand scheme of things, a raise of 8.8% is actually far below what the Board was going for in this case.

Over the past week I’ve seen students protest this hike and question its constitutionally. While I sympathize with those who have to pay their own way, a jump of less than 700 bucks (average of a little more than 400) does not suddenly make their education “inaccessible”. A 15-20% jump in one year? Definitely. But not a jump of less than 500 dollars.

In my four years at ASU, I saw the rates rise at least two or three hundred dollars per year from freshman year to graduation. I also realize that this hike is separate from any additional charges the school decides to tack on. 

My point is mainly for those students that don’t pay fully for their education, the vast majority of middle-class freshman entering college. A four or five hundred dollar increase per semester isn’t the end of the world. It doesn’t make your education inaccessible. What it clearly means is that you may have to work an extra week or two at that summer job to help Mom and Dad pay for a little bump in school costs. ($7.50 per hour X 30 hours per week X 3 weeks = 675 bucks) Maybe paying for something you thought was just a “given” for all these years will make you study harder and party just a little less. You don’t want to pay for a “D”. 

And yes, after 4 years I realized I was incredibly lucky. And despite rough economic times, so are many many more kids out there. For those that have to pay their own way or part of it, this hike may be a little harder to swallow. Many of the students I’ve seen protesting at UNC probably fit into that category. But there are many more that don’t and are just looking for a cause. Thanks to inflation (you should have covered that in ECON 1101) 500 bucks isn’t what it used to be. It’s not considered much any more, depending on who you ask. Unfortunately, if you ask the Board of Governors, its not that much.

I don’t agree with all of it, but the money has to come from somewhere. This isn’t meant to shun, belittle or shrug off kids that DO pay for their school. It’s meant to give some perspective to kids that DON’T, and maybe encourage them to help Mom and Dad out every once in a while. (There will come a day when you’ll appreciate it.)

 A Carolina student said the other day that the BOG could just “get some money from another place, like another fund or something”. I’m sure he was referring to the money tree that grows on the north end of the Carolina campus. That must also work like an ATM for the thousands of Greeks at places all over the state like Carolina where some kids party their way through school and their parents’ wallets. I know that to be true at many schools in NC. It still doesn’t make education inaccessible. At the end of the day, an eduction at any one of the UNC system schools is an exceptional value. At this time, is seems it takes a little more money to help maintain that value. 

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