Students taking backseat on tuition hikes

A lot can get lost in a crowd.

And that is exactly what is happening right now at Western Carolina.

With Homecoming Week in full swing, students haven’t been too caught up in anything else.  But, that is all about to change very soon – student tuition and fees are taking a hit.

Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, Dr. Sem Miller explaining proposed tuition and fee increase. Photo Jake Myers.

The university held an open forum today in the University Center (U.C.) Theater to discuss the proposed tuition and fee increases for the upcoming academic year – some of which may start as early as January.

The Tuition and Fee Committee is charged with reviewing proposals, financial aid information, UNC system information, and getting the feedback from students on these tuition and fee proposals.  A handful of members from the committee were in attendance.  Dr. Sam Miller, the Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs for the university, led the presentation.  Ryan Hermance, president of the Student Government Association, Trina Orr, director of Financial Aid, and Robert Edwards, Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance, were also in attendance.

The committee is co-chaired by Miller and Hermance and comprised of an equal number of student and faculty/staff, with both a faculty and staff senate representative.  They meet throughout the fall semester, and eventually will make a vote at the end of the fall on the proposals.  The proposals are advisory and Chancellor David Belcher will take that information and present it to the Board of Trustees.  To note, Hermance is also a member of the board of trustees.

The tuition and fee hikes are taking its toll on out-of-state students – both undergraduate and graduate – than on North Carolina residences.  For the 2014-2015 year, these students will see a 6 percent increase in tuition fees, which measures up with the same amount being cut by the state in the WCU budget.

For a North Carolina student, the total amount of tuition and mandatory fees will increase by about a quarter of a percent, as opposed to 6percent for out-of-state students.  Also, the total annual cost including food and housing would increase by nearly 3 percent for in-state students, as opposed to just over 5percent for out-of-state students.

It’s safe to say, there is a lot going on within this plan.

Nothing has been approved or finalized by any means, but below are the proposed figures that will affect WCU students in the 2014-2015 academic year.

Financial Aid

The number of students requesting aid has increased the past four years.  Last year over 8,000 students received financial aid, and that number is expected to increase next year.  Also, student loan debt for WCU graduates averaged about $18,600 last year.  Compared to the UNC system, Western is about $2,000 below the loan debt in the UNC system.  The default rate has been trending up the past few years for WCU students and students nationally.

Mandatory Fees

There are four general fees all UNC campuses charge – athletic, education and technology, health services and student activity.  The athletic fee increased three years ago and will see no increase next year.  This goes for the education and technology fee as well.  However both the health services and student activity fee will increase by 6.47 percent and 7.92 percent respectively.

The transportation fee, which pays for the CatTran system and receives no state funding, will also see an increase of nearly 23 percent, pushing the amount up to $118.  The fee went up $16 the previous year.  The fee will pay for a new bus and the opportunity to install a GPS tracking system that will allow students to track the location of CatTrans using an app on their smart phones.

The sustainability fee ($10) is a new proposed fee that would be used to fund initiatives on campus aimed at energy efficiency and enhancing our environmental sustainability programs.  This money would be used for internships, student research projects, and facility-related projects.  It has been proposed for three years now and has been co-sponsored by student government.

“The up-front costs are expensive, but these [sustainability] projects will help the school save money and off-set some of the other fees,” Hermance said after the presentation.

On Campus Housing

The Tuition and Fee Committee is looking for a 3 percent increase across the board in residential living fees to address increase personnel expenses, the cost of benefits, and increases in energy and utility expenses.  The committee aims to increase the rates of the Walker, Scott, Buchanan, and Albright/Benton residence halls by 5 percent for renovation projects.

Food Services and Meal Plans

The Tuition and Fee Committee proposes a 5 percent increase for food service fees across the board with the same meal plans in place.  These mark-ups are due to food service costs of operation, benefits for its employees, and the upward trends in food cost.  However, students will receive a 5 percent increase in declining balance for those meal plans.  Starting in January, due to the change in state law, North Carolina sales taxes (6.75%) will apply to the sale of meal plans.  How the sales tax will apply is still yet to be determined.

Also, Western Carolina food services are looking at other possibilities to potentially increase the hours of operations of Einsteins, as well as upgrades to its food court programs by replacing food stations in the Courtyard Dining Hall and in the U.C.  One replacement opportunity includes the swapping out of ZoCa for another concept (Moe’s has been discussed).

A dining hall on upper-campus could be coming within the next few years.


The Department of Parking and Transportation and the Department of Administration and Finance are proposing a significant change in parking for next year.  The plan calls for the creation of tiers – top, middle, and bottom – for faculty/staff and students, where the bottom tier would consist of the freshmen class.  The rates for this plan would go up for four years.

According to Dr. Miller, the tiers would be based on convenience.  Core parking areas would be the top tier and the tiers lower the further away from those areas.  The departments are working on crafting maps so people can see these tiers and where they are located. This is coming from the Master Plan project, which is the ten-year plan for the university that has been in discussion for over a year.

The drastic parking changes are being determined based on the high-demand for campus parking.  Other parking proposals included altering the schedule of classes and moving class times to different days.  Another major change being thrown around is the idea of taking the Coulter/Forsyth lot and making it an hourly parking lot and making it available for faculty/staff and students.  All the details and prices per hour for this lot are still in discussion, but $3-5 is the proposed amount.

The Master Plan also calls for the possibility of a parking garage.  However, this is still a long shot and is still in the early stages of planning.  When will it make sense for Western to build its first parking garage?  It could be sooner rather than later, but if the university is going to move in that direction as Dr. Miller points out: changes to parking have to be made now.

Parking forums, and other presentations, to discuss these issues will be held in the next few weeks.

Also, a survey will be sent out to students within the next week for the Tuition and Fee Committee to gather feedback on all of the proposals outlined above.

The question remains to be seen on how these changes could affect prospective students, but Dr. Miller isn’t leaving out any possibilities.

“Prospective students and their families are very value conscience in looking at costs, and the impact in tuition increases will have an impact on that process. WCU is still a strong value because our total cost of attendance is lower than a lot of the other options students are looking at.  Will it hurt our ability to recruit? It’s hard to say,” Dr. Miller said.