The University of North Carolina at Pembroke is proud of our distinctions, including North Carolina’s historically American Indian university, the most diverse student body among public master’s granting university in the South, and a military friendly institution. Upon passage of the proposed state budget, UNCP will have another distinction — NC Promise Tuition Plan campus.
Advancing our historic mission of increasing accessibility to higher education, the NC Promise Tuition Plan will use state funds to buy down tuition at UNC Pembroke, as well as Western Carolina University and Elizabeth City State University, to $1,000 per year for in-state students and $5,000 per year for out-of-state students beginning in the fall of 2018. As an NC Promise campus, the state’s level of investment in our students will increase. Furthermore, the plan will allow UNC Pembroke to leverage its existing scholarship funds to make a greater impact. The preferential tuition rate will allow us to attract additional students from across North Carolina, across the nation and internationally. This growth will not only further our mission of changing lives through education but also stimulate the economy of Southeastern North Carolina.
The NC Promise Tuition Plan is just one of the ways the budget supports UNC Pembroke. Additional benefits include tuition predictability for our students and their families, salary increases for faculty and staff, and a one-time appropriation to UNCP of $675,000. The budget also allows UNC Pembroke to move forward in planning our new School of Business facility, which will receive $23 million from the recently passed Connect NC Bond. Demonstrating the General Assembly’s commitment to the UNC system, the budget appropriates about 2 percent more ($50 million) to the system than it received in FY 2015-16 and 5 percent more ($125 million) than was originally budgeted for FY 2016-17.
Earlier versions of the legislation pertaining to college affordability generated much discussion from our campus community and others across the state. I was heartened by how many members of BraveNation made their opinions known. I share their strong pride in UNC Pembroke. Our conversations with legislators resulted in the increase of state funding to cover the cost of reduced tuition revenue resulting from enactment of the NC Promise Tuition Plan. The provision means the legislature will match dollar for dollar the difference between our full tuition price and the NC Promise Tuition Plan cost.
UNC Pembroke won’t spend any less educating our students. Rather, the NC Promise Tuition Plan reverses a nationwide trend of reduced state support for higher education. The result at UNC Pembroke will be the shifting of a greater portion of the cost from our students to the state. Still, a UNC Pembroke education will be far from “cheap” for our students and their families. Under the plan, a typical in-state undergraduate student living on campus will pay $14,132, including tuition, fees, room and board and health insurance. Thus, the NC Promise Tuition Plan is a significant step in increasing affordability, but clearly more progress is needed. A college education is still an expensive investment and out of reach for many deserving students.
The NC Promise Tuition Plan will allow our institution to impact more lives without sacrificing our quality or identity. In fact, the proposal includes language that directs the UNC Board of Governors to give consideration for our unique historical character and mission of service to minority, first-generation and economically disadvantaged students. We believe this is a product of our continuing discussions and the resulting collaboration with our legislators, and signifies their respect for our historical mission.
While I believe this plan will be significant and positive for UNC Pembroke, I recognize the anxiety that comes with change and uncertainty. But as an institution symbolized by bravery, I implore us to be strong and seize this opportunity. It’s important to remember our institution has served as a trailblazer since its founding 129 years ago. As the first state college in the nation designated specifically for American Indians, UNC Pembroke was the product of collaboration between visionary community leaders and lawmakers to provide access to education.
While we honor our heritage, we are proudly among the most diverse universities in the nation. And the NC Promise Tuition Plan will allow us to be among the most affordable. UNC Pembroke has always been distinctive. There is no campus in the nation like ours. This opportunity will allow us to further distinguish ourselves and serve as a role model for the future of high quality, accessible higher education. This is a tool we can use for even greater impact.
UNC Pembroke has always been about vision. Together, we are writing a new chapter for UNC Pembroke and southeastern North Carolina.
Dr. Robin Gary Cummings is the sixth chancellor of The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.