From UNC Charlotte Chancellor Philip L. Dubois:
Budget-minded students and parents are interested in the cost of securing a college degree. That explains public attention to university rankings and ratings issued by popular magazines. Most recently, Kiplingers Personal Finance magazine published its 100 Best Value Colleges. You may ask: Why wasnt UNC Charlotte in the rankings? We sure did. As one might expect, the devil is in the details of how Kiplingers measures both cost and quality to determine overall value.
Cost factors account for 45 percent of Kiplingers ratings. Sensibly, these measure out-of-pocket expenses such as tuition, fees, room/board and books. In this cost analysis, however, Kiplingers also uses the financial characteristics of an institutions students. UNC Charlotte serves the largest number of students in the UNC system eligible for federal Pell grants that support the neediest students; 72 percent of our students receive some kind of financial aid. Because Kiplingers uses the financial status of an institutions current students, it is difficult for UNC Charlotte to compete in the magazines cost assessment.
In terms of quality, most of Kiplingers factors (which account for 55 percent of the ratings) focus on the selectivity of freshmen admissions, the standardized test scores of those admitted, and retention and time to degree. Few, if any, of Kiplingers quality measures address the actual effectiveness of instruction or the educational experience itself. Moreover, in the case of UNC Charlotte, Kiplingers ratings ignore the population of students who come via transfer (approximately 43 percent of our new students), and the demonstrable linkage between students economic status and their ability to graduate. We know that 44 percent of new UNC Charlotte students work an average of 22 hours per week while they attend school.
Despite the disadvantages in Kiplingers ratings, UNC Charlotte will not allow rankings to dictate the way it carries out its mission. The university is committed to an accessible and affordable quality education. Students and their families have heard that message clearly as enrollment at UNC Charlotte has increased by more than 26 percent since 2005 with no change in admissions standards.
At the same time, our increase in tuition and fees for next year is the third lowest in the UNC system. And we rank 17th of 18 urban peer institutions in total cost. These are rankings we are proud to celebrate.
As we proceed through this years session of the N.C. General Assembly, it is important to remind our citizens that the best way to keep higher education affordable is for the state to fulfill the promise of Article IX, Section IX of the North Carolina Constitution to keep the cost of higher education as far as practicable free of expense. And where increases in tuition and fees are unavoidable, state-funded need-based financial aid must be provided to ensure equity and access for all qualified students. North Carolina has a proud history that proves that low cost and high quality can go hand in hand.
For The Record offers commentaries from various sources. The views are the writers, and not necessarily those of the Observer editorial board.
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