Politics & Government

Students who stay too long at UNC schools have to pay a surcharge. But a bill would change that.

Republicans introduced a bill in the N.C. Senate on Tuesday that would roll back tuition surcharges for students at UNC system schools who take too much time and too many credit hours to get their degrees.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jim Perry, R-Lenoir; Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Guilford, and Sen. Rick Horner, R-Nash, would offer relief to students who take more than four years and more than 140 credit hours to get a four-year degree, as well as those who take more than five years and 110 percent of the credit hours required by a five-year program.

With some exceptions, students exceeding those limits have been subject to a 50 percent tuition surcharge since fall 2010. From 1994 until 2010, the surcharge was 25 percent.

The surcharge is assessed only to students who exceed both limits; those who take more than the allotted credit hours within the allotted time are not charged extra.

Rep. Jim Perry N.C. General Assembly

Perry, reached by phone Tuesday, said research suggests the surcharge was initiated to discourage students from lingering at college unnecessarily for semesters on end, taking up space on class rosters that might have been given to students with more drive.

Whatever its intent, Perry said, the surcharge had the most punitive effect on veterans, older students and community college transfer students.

Students from North Carolina’s community colleges are more likely to be minorities, according to the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research, and are often less wealthy and are more likely to represent the first generation of their family to go to college than their counterparts who start out at four-year schools.

“People are going back to school to try to become more productive citizens,” Perry said. “The surcharge was a barrier to entry.”

A legislative report published in 2012 said it takes most UNC system students longer than the equivalent of four years, or eight semesters, to complete a degree. On average, the report said, it takes a student those eight semesters plus another semester and a half in summer.

Credit hours taken in summer don’t count toward the balance, nor do credit hours given for advanced placement class exams.

The surcharge can be waived for students whose college careers are interrupted by a military service obligation, disability or other hardship.

Perry said the bill was crafted after discussion with the UNC Board of Governors. The board had no objections so far, Perry said.

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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.