NC colleges: high praise, high prices

The Old Well on the University of North Carolina campus in Chapel Hill.
The Old Well on the University of North Carolina campus in Chapel Hill.

From an editorial Thursday in the Winston-Salem Journal:

A recent poll that looks at education in North Carolina came up with some conclusions that make us want to say, “Well, duh.” The results show that North Carolina residents generally value education and think the state’s colleges and universities provide a high-quality education, but they’re also too expensive.

Seventy percent of those polled give the state’s public universities — schools like UNC-Chapel Hill, N.C. State, UNCG and N.C. A&T — grades of A or B, BH Media’s John Newsom reported last week. Seventy-five percent say the same about our private colleges and universities. A majority also said they’re satisfied with the availability of public and private universities in their areas. And a majority recognizes that a four-year college degree is a better path to a good job than a two-year degree, a professional certificate or high school alone.

But the one spot where positive perception wavered was on the expense. Forty-one percent of respondents said they were somewhat or very dissatisfied with the affordability of public universities close to them while 60 percent weren’t happy with the price of private colleges in their areas. And 78 percent said the expense was the major reason why people who start college don’t graduate.

Before scholarships and other grants, a year at a public university can cost $20,000 including room and board, BH Media reported. Most private colleges charge much more.

That puts higher education out of reach for too many. Or, conversely, it can trap them in a high-cost spiral of school loans that take a lifetime to repay.

It’s right to look at the cost of college, which is much higher than in our parents’ day, but more necessary than ever. According to a Pew Charitable Trusts report conducted last year, adults without a college degree run a 31 percent chance of living in poverty as opposed to a 5 percent chance with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Our state colleges are still relatively inexpensive, but tuition has been on the rise for some time now. The current Republican-led legislature has in the last few years made severe budget cuts to the UNC system, which doesn’t help. It also has made controversial decisions, seemingly motivated by partisan politics, that have undermined the system’s mission and highly-regarded reputation. Maybe the fresh blood arriving in January can help turn things around.

With everything North Carolina has going for it — including a healthy business environment, dedicated education professionals and a history of affordable, quality education — there’s no reason we can’t revive an affordable-college culture in the state — one that 100 percent of our residents will recognize and praise.