The North Carolina Board of Governors should take notice: after a year of intense lobbying and opposition from students and the broader community, the Board of Visitors at the University of Virginia announced it would lower the student loan debt burden for low- and middle-income Virginian families who were previously required to borrow up to $28,000 in college loans. North Carolina should be doing the same, but instead is moving in the opposite direction and prompting an increase in student loan debt.
Like North Carolina’s Board of Governors this past year, two summers ago the UVa. Board passed a policy to cut financial aid. As a co-leader of the grassroots Restore AccessUVA campaign, I couldn’t be more thrilled the state is reversing course.
North Carolina is the right place to start a national “cap student debt” campaign, because North Carolina’s Board of Governors is taking a jewel of a higher education system and moving to make it available only to those able to pay.
This past summer, the board decided to prohibit public colleges from devoting more than 15 percent of tuition revenue to financial aid. No other university spending is capped.
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Six colleges (UNC Chapel Hill, Fayetteville State, NC Central, NC State, Elizabeth City State, and Winston-Salem State) already exceed the Board’s cap on financial aid. Two more are on the cusp (Appalachian State and UNC Asheville). They’ll have to cap or cut student aid. Most colleges have little revenue other than what comes from tuition.
So as financial aid letters go out this month and next, current and prospective students and their families should expect to feel the steep repercussions of cuts in their financial aid:
Nearly 22,000 low-income students from the six immediately affected North Carolina colleges are likely to see lower aid levels as the cap phases in.
Because middle-income students are ineligible for federal government aid like Pell Grants and primarily rely on institutional aid, they too can expect less financial aid. North Carolina college aid administrators say that the middle class will have to borrow more.
The cascade impact beyond reduced financial aid packages? Students forced to take on employment to supplement their withering aid will be less engaged in college life, taking away from the college experience for everyone. They’ll be less likely to graduate or graduate on time. Minority students will be disproportionately harmed, thereby undermining student body diversity.
There’s a saying that North Carolina is the valley of humility between two mountains of conceit (Virginia and South Carolina). Well, if North Carolina truly is that valley of humility, then it should humbly recognize its mistakes and do what’s right for North Carolina students and families.
Hajar Ahmed graduated from the University of Virginia in 2014, and currently works at Education Reform Now as a research assistant.