PEMBROKE — Gov. Pat McCrory touted a plan that will lower tuition at The University of North Carolina Pembroke during a visit to the school on Thursday, one that appears popular with students there.
McCrory met with a group of students to talk about legislation passed earlier this year in the General Assembly that will bring down tuition at UNC Pembroke, Western Carolina University and Elizabeth City State University to $500 per semester for in-state students and $2,500 per year for out-of-state students beginning in the fall of 2018.
During a roundtable discussion, students shared their concerns with him and their relief at not having to borrow as much money to go to college.
“It’s very disturbing for me to hear about kids getting into further debt and not being able to climb out of that debt within a reasonable time,” McCrory said at a press conference after his meeting with students. “This generation is having to deal with much greater financial pressures than my generation.”
McCrory’s Pembroke stop was part of a tour to discuss college affordability on campuses statewide.
McCrory said he is pleased that lower tuition rates will open the door for more students to get an education. He said he was further heartened by the fact that students told him they believed they would find good jobs when they graduated from UNCP.
“Hopefully there will be a very positive response from the students regarding the affordability of this great institution and that’s our major goal,” McCrory said, “to lower the cost of education, not only for the students but for the taxpayers of North Carolina.”
The state’s budget also freezes undergraduate tuition at all UNC system schools for students who graduate in four years, or five years for those enrolled in a five-year degree program. Another college affordability measure included in the budget caps university fee increases at 3 percent annually.
While these cost cuts help students, it will cost taxpayers more, McCrory said, because the state budgeted $40 million to replace what will be lost in tuition. Responding to questions that the tuition drop might lead to overcrowded campuses, McCrory said he and Chancellor Dr. Robin Cummings discussed the possibility of one day having to cap on the number of students.
“I think that’s an issue that we’re all going to have to resolve during the next year,” McCrory said, “knowing what the cost will be versus the capacity.”
Logan John, UNCP Student Government Association president, said the more people learn about the state’s efforts to make college more affordable, the more they appear to like it.
“Our student government endorsed the plan. I think as part of that, there is a level of trust with us because that may not exist with people they don’t know or they’ve never heard of in Raleigh,” John said.
Zachary Pisano, a freshman, was happy to hear of the tuition drop.
“I think it’s really good, especially for someone who had to take into consideration the fact that they didn’t really have a lot of money and they had to use some financial aid and loans to pay for the first semester,” Pisano said while on campus Wednesday. “Having the rates really low is really beneficial to some of the students because that lessens the amount of loans that they have to take out and it really helps with the costs.”
Destiny Lesmith, a freshman studying Physical Therapy, said the tuition cut may prevent her from having to take out a loan. Chrystal Threatt, a freshman with two sisters also attending UNCP, also saw that benefit.
“It will be less expensive so that way I can come without having to take out so many loans,” Threatt said.
Christopher Ajagbawa, a freshman, said he knows people wo want to attend UNCP, but didn’t have the money.
“I think it’s good that the school is opening up like that to a lot of people who can now afford to come here,” he said.
The tuition plan hasn’t been popular with everyone. The proposal, from Sen. Tom Apodaca, a Western Carolina alum, was met with backlash from students, alumni and faculty who worried it would devalue diplomas from the affected schools and cost schools needed revenue. Two schools initially included in the plan, Fayetteville State and Winston-Salem State, were taken out at their request.
Marco Benitez is also a freshman who favors the reduction, but said he has heard differing opinions from other students who have talked about transferring.
“They said a lot would change if we had so many more students. In my personal opinion, if I could still get my major, my education, it wouldn’t bother me,” Benitez said. “I’m not too picky about what school is like, personally.”
The governor on Thursday also talked about the state’s budget, which provides $23 million in new funding to UNCP through Connect NC to build a new business school on campus. In total, Connect NC provides $1.3 billion in investments for universities and community colleges throughout the state.