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UNC system ponders opening doors wider to out-of-state students

The UNC system, strapped for money for new initiatives, may take a step that has long been politically explosive in North Carolina: admitting more out-of-state students.

Unlike many public universities across the United States, the UNC system has for decades had an 18 percent limit on the number of out-of-state freshmen at its campuses. The cap – a way of preserving seats for the sons and daughters of North Carolina taxpayers – has been something of a sacred promise. Previous attempts to lift it have been met with heated debate, and ultimately, failure.

The issue re-emerged at a meeting of the UNC Advisory Committee on Strategic Directions, a panel of education, business and political leaders helping to craft a five-year plan for the university system. A draft of the plan proposes raising the proportion of the state’s adult population with college degrees, increasing online education, and investing in seven research areas that could be economic drivers in North Carolina’s future.

But paying for the new initiatives won’t be easy as the state deals with the aftermath of the recession and a stubbornly high unemployment rate.

That’s where out-of-staters and international students come in. They pay a much higher tuition rate. And some campuses, including UNC-Chapel Hill, East Carolina University and N.C. A&T State University are in big demand from applicants outside North Carolina. UNC-CH routinely bumps up against the 18 percent wall; there, North Carolina residents pay tuition and fees of $7,500, compared to $28,250 for out-of-state students.

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