Tuition for the 2018-19 crop of incoming freshman at N.C. Central University will likely remain the same as what this year’s group of first-years is paying, as campus leaders are going along with a request from the UNC system for a tuition freeze.
“We’re not proposing any tuition increases this year,” said Ben Durant, Central’s business-affairs vice chancellor.
But that doesn’t mean the total cost of attending the Durham school will remain the same, as Chancellor Johnson Akinleye’s staff and campus trustees want to raise the fees students pay for athletics, health services, housing and dining.
The requested increases of the athletics and health services fees now have to go to the UNC system for approval. NCCU has control over the housing and dining increases and thus will implement them in time for the start of the 2018-19 school year next fall.
Tuition-wise, the freeze means a full-time student taking 12 or more credit hours a semester will pay $3,728 a year to the university, just as the freshmen who arrived in August do now and will for their next three years on campus.
State law passed in 2016 bars NCCU and other UNC system schools from raising an in-state student’s tuition during their first four years in school. Effectively, that means a tuition increase in any given year applies only to in-state freshmen and transfer students.
But the UNC system – prodded by a faction of the Board of Governors – went beyond that this fall and instructed campuses to avoid seeking any tuition increases for in-state students.
It left the campuses free to seek tuition increases for out-of-staters and graduate students, but NCCU officials elected to avoid using that discretion, Durant said, adding that there was “a lot of student involvement” in the institution’s in-house debate on what to request.
Because of the state-law ban on raising an incoming student’s tuition in subsequent years, the decision will have a ripple effect on university finances at least through the 2021-22 academic year, all other things being equal and assuming continued increases in the cost of living.
Fundraising and grants could bring in money to close the gap, but like most UNC system campuses NCCU doesn’t play that game anywhere near as well as flagship schools UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State University.
The fee increases, meanwhile, all differ in size and motive.
NCCU officials want to raise the athletics fee by $40 a year, to $847, in hopes of lowering the Eagle athletics program’s draw on the normal campus operations budget.
Given other priorities on campus, “we want athletics to be more reliant on gate receipts, donations and athletic fees,” Durant said, adding that it’s more or less impossible for Central’s intercollegiate sports program to be fully self-supporting.
If no other UNC campus raises its athletics fees – and officials at Central are sure at least one of them wants to – NCCU would wind up in the top five in the 16-university system for the amount of money it asks of students to pay for athletics. The leader, by a good margin, is UNC-Charlotte, which relies on high fees to pay for a football program it launched in 2013 at the behest of various alumni and student factions.
The proposed health-services fee increase would raise that levy by $25, to $268, and pay for the hiring of another full-time nurse and a part-time psychiatrist to work with students. Durant said officials also want to modernize the system they use for tracking the immunization status of incoming freshmen.
Housing fees will go up to raise more money for building maintenance, and dining service fees will follow suit to encourage the Chick-fil-A chain to convert its existing on-campus eatery into a full-service one with its own kitchen.
Right now, NCCU’s Chick-fil-A gets its food from another branch of the chain on Hillsborough Road. The change will allow it to cook its own food and expand its menu once a new student center opens in the fall of 2021.
But Chick-fil-A won’t go along with the move unless NCCU adds to the “flex dollars” students can use to buy food in on-campus restaurants other than the Pearson Cafeteria, Durant said.
Chick-fil-A wants the flex-dollar reserve – now $1.6 million – raised to $2.1 million because students typically use their allotments early in a semester and then fall back on eating in the cafeteria, said Akua Matherson, the campus budget director.
It sees a bigger reserve as necessary to stretch that out and make the expanded restaurant “profitable over a full semester,” Matherson said.
She and Durant said NCCU officials want to phase in the increase in dining fees ahead of the opening of the student center rather than hitting them with it all at once.