UNC's Board of Governors may reconsider a fee increase

Published September 22, 2022

By Jenna Robinson

Editor’s note: At the September 22nd meeting of the Board of Governors, the motion to eliminate the student fee in question was defeated. Below is the Martin Center’s commentary on the issue.

Today, the UNC Board of Governors will take up an important question: Is it appropriate to increase student fees when students are already facing tight budgets due to inflation? For most fees, the System has already answered with a resounding “no.” But an exception may be made for the System-wide campus security fee.

The Committee on Budget and Finance was scheduled to take up the issue in its meeting yesterday. But committee chair Jim Holmes, with committee approval, moved the item to today’s full Board meeting agenda. The specific item in question is “whether [the Board] wants to make any change to the campus security fee for 2023-24, so that campuses can develop their 2023-24 fee proposals and all-funds budgets accordingly.”

The Board of Governors first implemented the campus security fee in 2015-16 to address increased security needs. The rate was set at $30 at every UNC System campus. In March 2021, the Board approved an increase to $60 by 2022-23. At both times, there was considerable discussion about whether student fees are the appropriate tool to fund an essential service such as campus security.

Average student fees across the UNC System have increased 55 percent since 2001-02, adjusted for inflation.

In a Sept. 19 email to his fellow Board members and UNC System President Peter Hans, member Art Pope revived that discussion. In the email, he proposed “eliminat[ing] the Campus Security fee for the next Academic and Fiscal Year of 2023-2024; and, fully fund[ing] the University total public safety budget from the University’s General Fund Budget.”

Pope proposed the measure to “help our students and families and fulfill our duties as [a] Board of Governors and as mandated by our North Carolina Constitution to fund the University’s core mission while providing higher education as free as practical for our people.” Average student fees across the UNC System have increased 55 percent since 2001-02, adjusted for inflation.

At yesterday’s Budget and Finance Committee meeting, UNC System president Peter Hans reiterated the university’s commitment to affordability, supporting the continuation of System-wide tuition freezes into 2023-24. Hans asked, “If families see that the cost of college [is], or perceive the cost of college to be beyond their means, if they see and expect that a ticket to opportunity grows more expensive year after year, then can we say that our mission [and] universities are there to serve them?”

UNC System CFO Jennifer Haygood’s instructions to constituent institutions underlined Hans’s message: Campuses should not propose fee increases for resident undergraduate students in 2023-24.

In the past half-decade, the North Carolina Legislature, the Board of Governors, the UNC System, and North Carolina taxpayers have worked to make UNC a leader in college affordability. Today’s debate may signal the Board’s appetite to continue on that path.

Jenna A. Robinson is the president of the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.