Western Carolina University’s board of trustees voted to increase the school’s tuition by 6.5 percent next year.
The vote to adopt a voluntary tuition hike will only take effect if the North Carolina General Assembly backs off on its proposed 8 percent tuition hike across the UNC system.
WCU doesn’t stand to gain from statewide hike, which would merely plug holes in the state budget. However, the voluntary hike preferred by the WCU trustees would remain at the local level and augment the university’s own budget.
WCU Chancellor John Bardo explained the need for a voluntary tuition increase to the school’s trustees before the vote.
“If you look at the institutions in the UNC system most like Western, our market basket of programs –– we have the most expensive programs, but our tuition lags substantially behind schools like ASU and Wilmington,” Bardo said.
The General Assembly already voted to increase tuition across the UNC system by 8 percent or $200 to cover a $35 million hole in the state’s general fund.
Vice Chancellor for administration and finance Chuck Wooten said UNC President Erskine Bowles will ask the Assembly to allow each of the universities in the system to adopt voluntary tuition and fee increases.
“We remain hopeful that the [General Assembly] will be able to find that $35 million in some other way,” Wooten said.
Bardo said WCU would use half of the money it raises from its 6.5 percent increase for need-based scholarships and the other half for its quality improvement plan. The raise would cost an in-state undergraduate student an extra $31 on 2010-11 tuition fees.
“We are in a position in which we’re trying to increase quality, and we need the resources to do it,” Bardo said.
WCU Student Government Assembly President Josh Cotton asked the trustees for a 5.2 percent increase instead, but the board voted unanimously to adopt the amount put forward by the school’s leadership.
“There’s no way you’ll get 0 percent,” Cotton said. “That’s why I went down to meet with presidents from other institutions to work out a good compromise. Even though it’s a small amount, I still promised the students I’d try to keep it as low as possible.”
Steve Warren, chairman of the board of trustees, said WCU needed to balance its mandate to provide an affordable education with its drive to improve the quality of its product.
“We want our students to have the best. They deserve the best,” said Warren. “Yet we also must be mindful of our state constitution, which requires us to provide public higher education as free from costs as possible. The task is to find that delicate balance.”