UNC system board hears proposal for lifting out-of-state enrollment cap

Sep. 12, 2013 @ 06:12 PM

The UNC Board of Governors on Thursday was asked to consider a proposal to raise the cap on out-of-state students from 18 percent to 30 percent at the state’s six historically minority colleges.
By doing so, system officials hope to address capacity and efficiency issues and to ensure fiscal stability and sustainability at those campuses as budget cuts continue to wreak fiscal havoc throughout the 16 college campuses that make up the UNC system, but more severely impacting schools with predominately minority enrollments.
Staffers contend that attracting high-quality out-of-state students will help improve efficiency by shortening time to degree, thus reducing the cost to produce a degree.
Lifting the cap will have a positive economic benefit to the state, they said.
“Data show that nonresident students at historically minority institutions remain in the state to work or to go to school after they get their bachelor’s degree, almost half,” said Jonathan Pruitt, a UNC system vice president for finance.
The six historically minority institutions with predominately African-American and Native American enrollments are Elizabeth State University, Fayetteville State University, N.C. A&T University, N.C. Central University, UNC Pembroke and Winston-Salem State University.  
This academic year, five of the six schools suffered heavy budgetary losses ranging from $643,935 at Fayetteville State to $6.3 million at N.C. A&T as a result of enrollment declines.
The lone exception was NCCU, which received a $734,261 enrollment growth appropriation.
All six schools also suffered heavy budget cuts the previous academic year due to declines in enrollment.
If adopted, the plan would be implemented as a five-year pilot with annual evaluations and reports to the board.
The number of North Carolina residents admitted to those universities would remain constant, as would the academic quality of the out of state students admitted.
Current policy, for example, does not allow schools to admit out-of-state students who perform below in-state students on the SAT.
While a vote on the staff’s proposal is still likely months away, approval for the plan exempting the six schools from the cap may be hard to come by.
Several board members appeared lukewarm to the idea Thursday, with one suggesting that the board needs to have a larger discussion about consolidating campuses at schools that are struggling with enrollment issues instead of simply allowing them to admit more out-of-state students for the higher tuition.
“I would hate to see some of these world-class performing chancellors that are getting shorted on resources because we’re sharing resources with underperforming campuses,” board member Harry Smith, a recent appointee. “At some point, somebody is going to have to have a conversation about delineation of roof lines and consolidating those resources and giving those resources to the campuses that are knocking it out.”
The subject of consolidating campuses came up in the spring as the Republican-led General Assembly sought ways to cut costs.
Fayetteville State University Chancellor James Anderson said lifting the 18 percent cap would do little to increase enrollment at his campus.
“Our growth model is not going to be in first-year freshmen, it’s going to be in community college transfers, the military, commuters and continuing adults,” Anderson said. “I’ll be long gone before we get 18 percent, so it’s not in my model.”
Board member Hannah Gage said she thought the proposal to lift the enrollment cap at the six campuses is a creative approach to tackling the campuses’ capacity issue, but only a short-term fix.
“The larger question in my mind is not necessarily do we need to consolidate but do we need to reinvent or re-imagine the campuses that are struggling,” said Gage, a former board chairwoman. 
She said that in other states, universities that have struggled with enrollments have become hybrids or formed creative partnerships with community colleges to overcome their struggles.
“Some of that, I think, should be part of the conversation before we ramp up the out-of-state numbers,” Gage said.
Board member Henry W. Hinton warned that talk of lifting the enrollment cap might not play well in Raleigh, where the legislature controls the purse strings.
“It does strike me that as we trying to stop the bleeding with the budget, this could be a real hot potato,” Hinton said.
Vice Chairman Frank Grainger said the board should move carefully before lifting the 18 percent cap.
He said the system needs to first be sure that it is adequately serving the residents of North Carolina before further opening the doors for out-of-state students.
“We got to fill up our university with North Carolina students as much as we can, and when we start taking on these out-of-state students and bringing them in just for the sake of trying to build enrollment, I get very concerned about it,” Grainger said.
While tuition is much higher for out-of-state students, UNC system President Tom Ross said lifting the cap won’t generate lots of money for the six campuses.
“Any additional revenue generated by out of state student goes into the general fund, not into our fund,” Ross said.
The board broached the idea of lifting the enrollment cap at the six schools in June, along with four other enrollment pilot programs, one of which was to lower nonresident tuition for students in nearby counties in border states.