Note: Be sure to view a note by John de Ville, public school advocate and Hope Street Fellow from Macon County, following this op-ed. He highlights that Western Carolina University has strong reservations and provides a link to their statement on SB 873 – The Affordable College Education Act. Thanks to John.
Sen. Joyce Kraweic is now offering red herrings from the North Carolina General Assembly’s political menu, and it serves as a reminder that there are many in our General Assembly who are simply intent on hurting public education.
John Hinton’s feature story in the May 29th edition of the Winston-Salem Journal, “Bill to lower WSSU tuition draws fire”, outlines the Access to Affordable College Education Act which was introduced by Sen. Tom Apodaca and co-sponsored by our local state senator.
The bill “would require Winston-Salem State University, Fayetteville State University, Elizabeth City State University, UNC Pembroke and Western Carolina University, to lower tuition beginning in the 2018 fall semester to $500 for state residents and $2,500 for out-of-state residents.” That would cut current tuition by %69 for in-state students, almost %61 for out-of-state students.
In what is being hailed by Apodaca and Kraweic as a means to make education more affordable for students, this bill would spell certain bankruptcy for these schools which include flagship HBCU’s and the largest public college campus west of Asheville. It is a pure and simple attack on the public university system in our state.
While Apodaca could not be reached for explanation, Sen. Krawiec gave enough political spin to reveal the absence of foresight evident in this bill and a lack of being educated on how this legislation would devalue what these schools offer students.
When asked about the impetus for this bill, Krawiec stated, “The cost of education in North Carolina has skyrocketed over the past 10 years, rising by 72 percent.”
It would make more sense for the senator to find out why tuition has “skyrocketed” and attack those causes, one of which is the state’s unwillingness to extend more funds to the entire UNC system to help defray costs for our state’s students by slowing tuition hikes.
Or better yet, stop putting more of the state’s tax burden on the very people who send their students to these public universities. Extending Medicaid might ease financial burdens for many; fully funding k-12 public schools would give all public school students a better chance to succeed in post-secondary studies; slowing down the siphoning of money to unregulated charter schools and unproven vouchers would save money that could be reinvested in public systems.
However, more of the actual intention of this bill appears in Kraweic’s last quote in the report. She says, ““We must find a way to increase student population and provide a quality education,” she said. “The buildings still have to be maintained and professors compensated even when classrooms are nearly empty. The legislature has committed to compensate any shortfall in funding due to reduced tuition.”
When Sen. Kraweic states that the legislature is “committed” to repay any budget shortfalls to the universities because of tuition revenue loss, she does not mention that Apodaca has already admitted that the bill “wouldn’t commit future legislators to continue that funding to the UNC system” after the first year. So, how would that really benefit these affected colleges and universities?
It wouldn’t. It would simply drive down their appeal to students because if the university cannot recoup revenue losses, then the ability to attract a viable faculty, keep the best resources on hand for students, offer financial packages through scholarships, and ultimately get alumni donations will all diminish.
More egregious is that this bill targets schools with a history of educating minorities, one of which is literally next to Kraweic’s district, Winston-Salem State University. Her own bill would hurt the very community that she serves, the very people she is supposed to represent.
Most ironic is that Sen. Kraweic is a real-estate broker by trade. She should know better than anyone that the price of a piece of property is intrinsically tied to its value. That is not to say that if one simply raises the price on something that the value automatically goes up. The market will even that out.
However, if one all of a sudden lowers the price on a piece of property by over %60, then there is a perception that what is offered is not as valuable. What would happen to the senator’s property value if the house next to hers sold for one-third of its value? Would the state come in and repay that financial setback? It wouldn’t.
Comparably, if schools like Winston-Salem State offer an education for a fraction of the cost to supply it, like any business, it would go bankrupt.
And the senator should know that.
From John de Ville:
The faculty of Western Carolina University says, in a blinding flash of strenuous diplomacy, that they understand perfectly well the NC Senate’s goal to crash them into the mountain and convert the venerable institution into a community college:
“Part III. Reduced tuition at certain institutions.
This is certainly the most attention-getting provision of the bill; it is both the most immediately attractive feature, and simultaneously the most problematic. A tuition rate of $500 per semester, if offered equally to students across the state, and, if matched with an identical investment back into the affected campuses, would be a great benefit for the people of the state. It would reflect the ideals represented in our state Constitution, and would clearly support a commitment to accessible, affordable, extraordinary higher education for North Carolina citizens.
Unfortunately, the current version of the bill only mandates the $500 tuition fee for five universities, does not offer a rationale behind selecting those universities, and provides no promise or even hint of current or future funding to make up for the catastrophic cut in these five universities’ budgets. We appreciate the verbal commitment by the bill’s sponsor to include an appropriate offset in the upcoming Senate budget (as reported in the News and Observer). However, having the $500 tuition cap in one bill, and the offset funding in a single biennium budget, creates a very precarious funding scenario for future years—when the overall cost of the plan is likely to increase many-fold. In order to make sure these universities are able to continue to provide a quality educational product to their students, the method of funding this plan should be included in the same bill as the plan itself.”