UNC schools should consider cosigning student loans, Board of Governors told

The UNC Board of Governors should consider having universities cosign student loans so the schools have a vested interest in helping their students succeed, a board member told the group Friday.

Thom Goolsby, a trial attorney from Wilmington, made the suggestion while the board was discussing tuition and fees for the 2019-2020 school year. The Board of Governors has said it’s committed to making college affordable for North Carolina students, especially those from rural areas and low-income families, and has asked the state’s 16 universities to hold the line on tuition and fees as much as possible.

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York said in December that outstanding student loan debt in the U.S. stood at $1.46 trillion in the fourth quarter of 2018. The average student debt for graduates of public four-year universities and private nonprofits in North Carolina is more than $26,500, according to the Institute for College Access and Success.

Goolsby attributed the idea for having a university cosign student loans to recent remarks by Fox News host Tucker Carlson.

“Right now it’s just our students that take all the risk,” Goolsby said. If they lost their footing in college and drop out, “They’re still stuck with all that debt.”

UNC Board of Governors member Thom Goolsby. Harry Lynch hlynch@newsobserver.com

With schools as cosigners, Goolsby said, “It puts us in their shoes and holds us just as accountable.”

At a brief news conference after the meeting, UNC interim President Bill Roper and Board of Governors Chairman Harry Smith said the board could look at the possibility.

After Goolsby’s remarks, the board voted to approve some cost increases for Fall 2019, including higher tuition for many graduate programs at eight universities, and some student fee increases. There were no across-the-board tuition increases for undergraduates.

During the meeting Friday at Appalachian State University, David Green, an NCCU law professor and chair of the UNC System Faculty Assembly, asked the board to encourage more use of ebooks and other cost-saving technology for students throughout the system as a way of lowering students’ costs for textbooks.

In other business, the board approved appointments to the Boards of Trustees of a dozen schools in the system. At one of those — East Carolina University — it had appeared a fight was brewing over the slate of candidates in the days before the meeting. ECU had offered one list of candidates, and the Board of Governors came up with another.

Board of Governors member Steve Long, already upset over ECU’s chancellor, Cecil Staton, announcing his resignation Monday, said the Board of Governors had disregarded ECU’s wishes. He pointed out that the Board of Governors’ slate would leave the ECU Board of Trustees with no women.

In the days before the meeting, Long said that Board Chairman Harry Smith had orchestrated Staton’s departure. Smith denied having anything to do with it, saying Roper had handled the matter.

The slate of nominations was changed at the last minute to include two women, with no explanation, and those were approved by the Board of Governors on Friday along with the nominees for other schools.

On Friday, Long apologized during the meeting for criticizing Smith. “I did not handle this matter in the right way,” he said. “I sincerely apologize.”

Smith accepted the apology and said he appreciated Long’s intensity.

“Passion is a great attribute,” Smith said.

Also at the press conference, a reporter asked about Staton’s resignation. In announcing it on Monday, Staton did not describe events leading to the resignation except to say, “I did not initiate this.” A reporter asked Roper on Friday who did.

In response, Roper said, “On behalf of the university system, we thank Chancellor Staton for his service at ECU and wish him the very best in his future endeavors.”

The reporter pressed, saying, “That doesn’t answer the question.”

Roper said, “I don’t have a legal obligation to answer your question.”

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Martha Quillin is a general assignment reporter at The News & Observer who writes about North Carolina culture, religion and social issues. She has held jobs throughout the newsroom since 1987.