If you’re looking for a place to get a college degree, you’d be hard pressed to find a state system better than that of North Carolina. The University of North Carolina system carries the prestige of 17 campuses. Whether you’re looking to UNC-Chapel Hill for liberal arts, North Carolina State University for engineering or science and math, East Carolina University for nursing, UNC Wilmington for marine biology, or any number of other world class specialities, you’re looking in the right place.
The problem is, it’s near impossible for anyone to afford it.
The Constitutional Mandate
According to the North Carolina Constitution:
“The General Assembly shall provide that the benefits of The University of North Carolina and other public institutions of higher education, as far as practicable, be extended to the people of the State free of expense.” N.C. Const. art. IX, § 9 (emphasis added).
So how has the state of North Carolina been stacking up against its constitutional mandate? Not too great.
In just the last decade, cost of attendance in the UNC system has skyrocketed. On average, it costs about 75% more to head to a college class in North Carolina than it did in 2006 with NC State, UNC School of the Arts, and Winston-Salem State University being the worst offenders. In an age when college affordability has been a widely discussed topic, North Carolinians are paying nearly double for a degree that is decreasing in value.
I began my undergraduate studies at UNC Wilmington in the Fall of 2006 which really makes this statistic hit home. I recall thinking how expensive my degree would be with tuition at $4,160 per year. In 2015, that same degree came in at a meager $6,691 per year – an increase of 61%. As a graduate with debt who faced the worst job market in roughly a century, it wasn’t worth the price tag I took out loans for. That means it’s really not worth its newly inflated cost.
More Cost, More Debt
Cost is only one aspect though. While yes, it is expensive to get a degree, it’s even more expensive to society when student loans are involved. Follow this for a second – you decide to spend money you have on something that turns out to be a bad investment. At the end of the day, you lost money, and that’s about it. Now what if you took out a loan and then lost your money? You’re then unable to be a productive member of the shared economy because all you’re doing is working to keep yourself afloat while paying back your failed investment.
For UNC grads, the average amount of student debt has increased 64% from 2006-2015. Instead of walking across the stage to receive their diploma, they are only being handed a bill for $24,358. Good luck and be on your way.
Rest assured, it’s not just the UNC system though – it’s a national epidemic. From 2006-2015 student debt has risen from $300 billion nationally to $1.2 trillion. It’s an unsustainable course that has already caused irreparable harm to an entire generation. Instead of buying homes and starting businesses, millennials are risk adverse due to their financial positioning. So we are seeing stagnant growth and a lack of opportunity on the horizon all because of out of control college costs.
From 2006-2015, state funding for the UNC system rose by 14% defying a national trend of decreased state appropriations. While some students across the country are taking on debt to account for shifts in funding, in North Carolina the universities are receiving more funds than ever – from both the state taxpayers and students (loans).
Steps in the Right Direction
It’s worth noting that the North Carolina General Assembly has taken steps to address the cost problem. They have, in just the past couple of years, instituted a tuition increase cap of 3% per year and a 4-year tuition lock. Unfortunately, more aggressive measures are required to tame the beast. Some states have begun promoting college savings programs, bonds, and programs such as 18 for 15. 18 for 15, for instance, allows students to take 18 hours for the price of 15, giving cash strapped kids the ability to finish school early, saving a chunk off their student loans.
This fall, attendance is down nationwide for yet another year. As degrees continue to prove less lucrative while costing more than ever, it’s a decision no student, or parent, should take lightly. Trade schools and community colleges are proving that tried and true skills yield a much better outcome at a fraction of the cost. It’s time to rethink higher education and innovate to restore the UNC system as the best bang for the buck.