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Despite protests, UNC board approves tuition hikes

The University of North Carolina Board of Governors approved a tuition hike, although students made sure their voices were heard in a noisy, confrontational meeting.

“The tuition increase that we pass today will not fill the budget hole, but it does provide a short bridge over troubled waters,” said Hannah Gage of the Board of Governors. “We don’t want to be in this position next year.” The board approved recommendations by system President Tom Ross, who had cut proposals that came in at more than 10 percent from individual campuses.

But the hikes, coming in a year when the universities are getting smaller funding from state government, are still steep in a tough economy. The meeting was marked by dramatic protests. After the vote, students chanted, “This is a sad day for public education and for democracy. We the students wish the Board of Governors had acted with courage and upheld the North Carolina Constitution. You do not represent us.”

And as the meeting went into closed session, protesters chanted, “Shut it down, shut it down, shut it down”… and, “This is what democracy looks like.” The Board of Governors oversee the entire UNC system, which includes UNC-Chapel Hill, N.C. State, East Carolina and the state’s other public universities.

About 100 people came to protest what became a tense meeting. Toward the end of the report on budget and finance, some of the board members chuckled at the tension in the room. That prompted one student to yell out, “Why are you laughing? This is not funny.”

Students at state schools like UNC-Chapel Hill are already feeling the effects of several years of budget cuts and the president of that school’s student body says although she is no fan of tuition increases, the funding had to come from somewhere.

“There are needs on campus and the only solution that’s being offered at the moment is a tuition increase,” explained UNC’s Mary Cooper. A total of $414 million was cut from the UNC system by lawmakers this year, with $100 million of that coming from the budget of Carolina. Cooper says the tuition increase will only replace $9- to $12-million of those cuts.

“We can’t put it all on student’s backs,” said Cooper. “We need to open the door; we need to find new ways to generate revenue.” Copper said it is time for students to get together to discuss the issue at all of the schools in the UNC system. “There’s yet to be a real dialogue that thinks outside of the box,” said Cooper.

“Each of the 16 campuses in the system has a unique thing; whether it’s Central or Greensboro, or Appalachian, there’s something unique about that school and alumni that make it what it is. Each school should explore what might make the most creative revenue source.”

On Thursday a budget committee voted to approve the tuition and fee hike. Which means next year students at their respective schools could pay anywhere from $300 to $800 more a year, with tuition hikes highest at UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State. Undergrads at UNC-Chapel Hill will pay almost 10 percent more, and N.C. State undergrads would be hit with a 9.8 percent increase and more tuition hikes would follow the next year.

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