UNC system voted to limit need-based aid offerings

By Amanda Albright
DailyTarHeel.com

Austin Glock Andrews would have never made it out of Richmond County without the UNC system’s commitment to affordability.

Andrews spent his entire senior year of high school filling out scholarship applications with the hopes that he could find a way to pay for his dream school — UNC-Chapel Hill.

Photo by Chris Griffin | The Daily Tar Heel Austin Glock Andrews, Grace Lane and Yuman Wang say they couldn’t have come to UNC-Chapel Hill without the help of need-based financial aid.

Photo by Chris Griffin | The Daily Tar Heel
Austin Glock Andrews, Grace Lane and Yuman Wang say they couldn’t have come to UNC-Chapel Hill without the help of need-based financial aid.

“It has the programs I want to do — I came in with classic studies and archaeology ready to go. I come from a really rural community and an economically disadvantaged family,” Andrews said. “When I got into Carolina — obviously, yay —but they met 100 percent of demonstrated need.”

Almost half of UNC-CH’s undergraduates use need-based financial aid, which is given in the form of scholarships, Pell Grants and work-study. Andrews says the latest policy passed by the UNC Board of Governors would have deterred him from attending UNC-CH.

The board approved a new policy this month that limits the percentage of tuition any UNC school can use toward need-based aid to 15 percent of tuition money.

At 20.9 percent, UNC-Chapel Hill uses the largest percentage of tuition for need-based aid out of any UNC school. North Carolina State University and four of the system’s historically black colleges or universities also meet or exceed the cap.

Administrators say this change could deter low-income and middle-income students from enrolling at UNC-CH. The Office of Scholarship and Student Aid said it would cause the average student’s debt to almost double — from $17,000 in loans to $33,000 — within three to four years, said Shirley Ort, the office’s associate provost and director.

For need-based aid recipient Yuman Wang, the change would detract from one of the major reasons she attended UNC-CH: cost.

“I would imagine it would impact a lot of students in the same situation as me — students who aren’t receiving a lot of grants but taking a lot of loans,” she said.

The measure requires schools above the cap to freeze the amount of tuition going toward need-based aid. If tuition increases, the schools that meet or exceed the cap cannot use additional tuition money to pay for need-based aid.

“The board is trying to protect need-based aid,” said UNC-system President Tom Ross. “It’s not going to go away. Schools that are over that cap are not required to drop to that cap.”

Jenna Ashley Robinson , director of outreach for the conservative think tank the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, said increasing the portion of tuition used for need-based aid ends up making schools in the UNC system less accessible.

“It’s a tail-chasing exercise,” she said. “Every time you raise tuition, more students are in need. You can’t ever get ahead that way.”

Junior Grace Lane , who received need-based aid and says she comes from a middle-class family, said she sees both sides of this logic.

The cap was passed at the Aug. 2 Board of Governors’ meeting unanimously and with no discussion.

UNC-system Association of Student Governments president Alex Parker said the cap came up for a vote much quicker than he and other student leaders anticipated. He said he doesn’t support the cap, but he favors it over an alternative that was suggested by board members — completely ending the practice of using tuition for financial aid.

Parker said there could be one silver lining from August’s meeting – the board also passed a 5 percent maximum on campus tuition increases for the next four years.

“The same people who proposed (the need-based aid cap) are against tuition increases,” he said. “Undergrads most likely will not get an increase in tuition.”

Parker said at ASG’s first meeting the members will discuss the impact on campuses.

“We’ll get real data and testimony and bring it back to the board,” he said. “The board members and general administration don’t understand how it will affect students.”

North Carolina State University plans to implement more financial literacy programs on loan repayment, said Krista Domnick, director of North Carolina State’s financial aid office, in an email.

The policy passed by the Board of Governors says schools can fundraise so no need-based aid is cut, which Ort said it could be a challenge.

“If we were to go out and raise endowment, even a large endowment would take so much time,” Ort said. “It takes so much time and money to raise money.”

UNC Student Body President Andrew Powell and his administration will host a public forum to discuss the new policy on Aug. 27.

“We will do everything we can, regardless of the policy, to ensure that Carolina meets 100 percent of demonstrated need,” Powell said.

The story originally appeared in the Aug. 14 edition of The Daily Tar Heel online. It is published here with permission.

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