SB873 or the Access to Affordable College Education Act was filed on May 10, 2016 with the first edition of the bill being released on May 11, 2016 by Republican Senator Chairman Tom Apodaca who serves Buncombe, Henderson, and Transylvania (District 48) counties in North Carolina. The most recent edition of the bill guaranteed the following:
- No in-state tuition increase for standard college term
- Reduction of student fees by 5% and no more than a 3% annual increase in the subsequent years
- Reduced tuition at certain institutions
- $500 per semester for in-state students; $2500 per semester for out-of-state students.
- Graduate teaching or research assistants in a similar instructional or research assignment and is at the same time enrolled as a graduate student in the same institution would be permitted a lower tuition rate no lower than $500.
- includes Elizabeth City State University, Fayetteville State University, University of North Carolina at Pembroke, Winston Salem State University, and Western Carolina University.
- Evaluation of admission cap on out-of-state students
- Establish Merit Scholarship at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and North Carolina Central University
- Up to 50 scholarships awarded–40 for resident students and 10 for nonresident students at each of the two universities
- fully funded four‑year scholarship that covers the cost of all of the following: full tuition, student fees, housing, meals, textbooks, a laptop, supplies, travel, and personal expenses. Each scholarship also provides four summers of fully funded enrichment and networking opportunities that may include international travel and study.
- Cheatham‑White Scholarship
- recipients selected on the basis of academic merit, honorable character, outstanding leadership potential, and a demonstrable commitment to service. Financial need shall not be a consideration.
- Nominations determined by size of Senior class student body at high schools.
There has been a public outcry, particularly by proponents of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) who feel that the components of the bill are a trick to unwittingly force HBCUs to close its doors, arguing that some HBCUs on the list are struggling to stay open and that lowering the tuition to $500 would cheapen the degrees offered by these institutions. Proponents believe the tuition decrease will likely lead to students receiving a sub par education since it will be extremely difficult to attract highly qualified professors. The North Carolina NAACP rallied against the proposed statute.
Critics question why universities with high rates of minorities are on the list instead of predominately white universities since they have higher tuition rates. As rumors of name changes of certain HBCUs to attract a whiter audience spread, bills such as SB 873 cause HBCU proponents to become even more restless.
As politics continue to rule decisions in education, many believe that this is nothing more than a setup for a HBCU takeover since every move in politics in strategic. I implore you to read “The Paradox of Tarheel Politics” by Rob Christensen to learn more about the history of strategic political corruption that has existed in North Carolina since the late 1800s.
According to Gwendolyn Glenn with WFAE, Elizabeth City State University, Fayetteville State University, and Winston Salem State University are no longer included in the Senate legislation. The last edition of SB873 was withdrawn from the calendar and re-referred to the Senate on May 26, 2016.
So what advice does Edvice give? Before laws that can be misconstrued like this one are introduced, serious conversations need to take place between stakeholders about the current state of higher education at all North Carolina colleges and universities. Surveys should also be administered to find out why certain universities struggle to increase enrollment to determine what can be done to help these universities. The information that is gained from the conversation and surveys should be used to create a plan of action to avoid public outcries like this one. The lesson that can be learned in this situation is to include as many stakeholders as possible in major decisions so everyone feels like they have a voice to express their concerns.
© 2017 Bryan A. Ruffin