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N.C. Opinions: Greensboro

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The value of UNC

From an editorial Friday in the (Greensboro) News & Record:

UNC Chapel Hill ranks first in the country, again, on Kiplinger’s latest list of best college values. Four other UNC campuses are among the top 30. So it’s disconcerting to see the state’s budget director, Art Pope, lecture the UNC Board of Governors about effectiveness and affordability.

“The spiraling cost of higher education, the increased costs to students and their parents, including growing personal debt, as well as the increasing demands on the state budget, cannot continue indefinitely,” Pope wrote in a Feb. 28 memo. “The University of North Carolina has a responsibility to its students and to the state to operate and improve the university in the most cost-effective and affordable manner as practicable.”

Of course it does. And it is. The UNC system awards more degrees and receives less state funding per student than it did before the recession struck six years ago. The average graduate of UNC Chapel Hill leaves with $16,983 in debt, according to Kiplinger’s. That compares to $25,759 for Virginia Tech and $27,815 for Michigan. UNC Chapel Hill is a bargain, despite steady tuition hikes to counter state budget cuts.

Pope was responding to a UNC funding request that did ask for too much – 11 percent more. It was “not realistic,” he said, and it ignored his directive to restrain growth to 2 percent. Granting it “would require the governor and General Assembly to make major reductions in other state agencies …” Pope didn’t explain that tax cuts, mainly benefiting corporations and upper-income individuals, have restricted available funds.

Times have changed, and UNC leaders are changing with them. They’ve had to raise tuition. They’ve thinned administration, although perhaps not yet enough. They have to train young people to pursue productive careers and generate information and new technologies that advance the state’s economy.

At stake is the system’s place among the upper levels of public higher education in the country. If North Carolina loses that edge, it will suffer the consequences for generations.

Still, yielding to realities, UNC leaders [last] week revised their request substantially downward. Pope praised the effort. Maybe compromise will ensue.

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