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State colleges tuition may rise

RALEIGH (AP) ó State lawmakers will consider slashing the ranks of university professors and raising college tuition during the General Assembly session that begins today, overshadowed by a budget crisis that could eliminate some degree programs.
Republicans taking charge of the stateís budget for the first time since 1898 are promising deep cuts to close a projected $3.7 billion gap. And the $2.7 billion total the state budgeted last year to run the University of North Carolinaís 16 campuses isnít off limits, said expected Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham.
Some $620 million in state funds were cut in the past four years and mostly took a toll on administration, so further trims will be felt by students, said Jeff Davies, the UNC systemís top operating officer.
ěWe are seeing more pain on the academic side of the house,î Davies said Tuesday, adding that legislators have a tremendous task ahead to balance the state budget now at $19 billion.
Deciding where layoffs among the university systemís 47,000 workers statewide fall will be determined in the months ahead, Berger said. Even the $64 million expected from not-yet-finalized tuition increases of up to 6.5 percent for the next academic year is not safe: The money could be taken to pay for other programs.
Universities have projected that a 10 percent budget cut would mean eliminating 2,000 positions, half of them faculty members, along with 6,400 fewer course sections.
The departing UNC system president, Erskine Bowles, even commented that it might be smarter to close an entire campus than chip away at every university.
if North Carolinaís economic health doesnít improve soon.
Bowlesí successor, Tom Ross, ordered a study days after taking office this month to find permanent savings by finding duplication in academic programs. Some campuses might lose programs if they are offered at several other locations. Similar programs at geographically close campuses might be combined under one institution.
The review is expected to take time because the campuses offer hundreds of programs. For example, a dozen UNC campuses in addition to the School of the Arts offer 22 bachelorís degree programs in music, music performance, music industry studies, music business, musical theater and music technology.
The drive to get leaner was forced on industries years ago, and the stateís public universities may benefit from the process, said Sanjeev Deshmukh of Greensboro, a parent with two children attending the schools.
ěMaybe removing some money from it may be better for education,î said Deshmukh, whose son is an Appalachian State University sophomore and daughter is a UNC-Chapel Hill senior. ěHopefully weíll come out of it with the right solution. Change is always painful.î
Even with likely tuition increases, North Carolina universities are a bargain, Deshmukh said. Appalachian Stateís undergraduate tuition and fees are $5,174 this year, while UNC-Chapel Hill is charging $6,488.
Tuition and fees are expected to continue rising in the coming years, Davies and others said.
But a 6.5 percent limit on tuition increases mean students likely wonít make up for state spending cuts. In previous recessions in the early 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, undergraduate resident tuition jumped by 20 percent or more in the worst year.
ěI see the economy continuing to remain challenging for the next couple, three, years,î Davies said.
The likelihood of tuition increases worries Tarini Parti, a UNC-Chapel Hill junior majoring in journalism and political science.
ěIf tuition goes up, itís going to be hard to pay for school for students like me who depend on grants for financial aid,î said Parti, 20, of Wilson, who is also an editor on the campus newspaper. ěThe (legislative) session is obviously going to be really important for the university system.î
óóó
Associated Press writer Gary D. Robertson contributed to this report.
The Associated Press
01/25/11 17:09

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