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N.C. Opinions: Raleigh

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Keep the out-of-state

From an editorial Friday in the (Raleigh) News & Observer:

The argument that there should be a larger percentage of out-of-state students on North Carolina’s public university campuses is at its strongest when proponents talk about how those students enrich campus life and broaden the horizons of their North Carolina-born classmates. It’s true, absolutely.

Many students who graduate from state campuses recall as their most unforgettable mates those they at first found so different, those from other regions of the country or in fact from other countries. And because the competition for admission is even tougher for out-of-state students, they tend to be top-flight scholars.

If the admission of North Carolina students would not be affected, it might be fine to raise the 18 percent cap on out-of-state enrollees allowed on UNC system campuses. However, some campuses, including Chapel Hill, have waiting lists and turn down many applicants.

The University of North Carolina’s campuses are attractive to students from every state. That’s allowed the Chapel Hill campus, the flagship, to charge $28,250 in tuition and fees to out-of-state students and have them waiting in line to pay it.

In-state students pay about $7,500.

Almost all recent chancellors from Chapel Hill have supported the idea of admitting a larger percentage of out-of-state students. The idea is under discussion again among university officials and some on its Board of Governors.

That reflects, no doubt, a belief that having more such students would raise the quality of a given class, would add to the university’s prestige nationwide, would make the campus more enriching for all.

But here’s the rub: The university doesn’t exist just to be a great institution for undergraduates and graduate students and faculty members. Its first mission is to serve the people of North Carolina.

Tom Ross, president of the UNC system, indicated there might be a way to have the 18 percent cap apply not to individual campuses, but systemwide, thus allowing some campuses to exceed it. That’s not a good idea, and Ross knows full well that UNC Chapel Hill, given a loose rein, would immediately enroll a much larger percentage of out-of-state students.

North Carolina’s cap on out-of-state freshmen has been in place for about 25 years. UNC Chapel Hill (the chief advocate for raising the cap) has continued to prosper and raise its academic standards. It’s a tough admission to gain for all but the best students in the state now. There’s not evidence that the cap has in some way hurt the quality of the public institutions.

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