This story was written by Quintin Ellison, originally published in The Sylva Herald.
David Belcher, the chancellor of Western Carolina University, says he’s confident the General Assembly will replace millions in expected lost revenue when NC Promise starts.
Legislators approved $40 million last year to make up for slashed tuition. Enrollment projections indicate that’s not enough money, according to university officials.
“We do feel we’re going to be able to successfully negotiate this with little challenge,” Belcher told the WCU board of trustees during a Friday meeting. “We are having very good conversations with our partners in the General Assembly. They want NC Promise to be a success.”
The NC Promise universities formed a working group. Its members are seeking two “legislative fixes” to ensure all three institutions remain fully funded, Belcher said.
The most significant request: an $11 million increase in the General Assembly-approved reimbursement. Instead of $40 million, if legislators agree, the universities would receive up to $51 million.
Based on current enrollment projections for the fall of 2018, WCU’s portion of that $51 million comes to about $31 million. That’s an increase from $26 million, the amount WCU would have received when the reimbursement amount was capped at $40 million based on 2014-15 enrollment, WCU Chief of Staff Melissa Wargo, said.
Earlier this month, the university reported it had 10,099 students enrolled, a record for the spring semester. Spokesman Bill Studenc said future growth expectations are not based on the number of students, but “in terms of student credit hours. Enrollment projections are aligned with recent growth patterns in enrollment, and those projections are based on a trajectory of 2 percent growth per year.”
The General Assembly derived the $40 million replacement revenue number using 2014-15 enrollment numbers.
“Since then, enrollments, particularly ours, have changed,” Belcher said. “This increase in funding is to make sure we are not financially hurt by the NC Promise program.”
Additionally, the NC Promise working group wants legislators to pump an additional $1.9 million into the program. Then summer school students could enjoy lower tuition, too, Belcher said. Because NC Promise does not apply to summer classes, charging these students full tuition could discourage summer enrollment, according to the chancellor.
“You can imagine what this would mean to students,” he told trustees. “In spring, they have a reduced tuition. It goes suddenly upwards for summer, then back down in the fall. The summer school dilemma could work at cross purposes to NC Promise.”
UNC President Margaret Spellings, who oversees the state’s 17-campus system, supports the working group’s proposed legislative changes, he said.
So does the General Assembly, according to WCU Trustee Tom Fetzer, a former mayor of Raleigh. He served from 2009-11 as chairman of the N.C. Republican Party.
“The $40 million figure came from the legislature’s best estimate on what the schools would need,” Fetzer said. “I have not heard any resistance to increasing that from $40 million to $51 million from anybody in the General Assembly. It’s something they want to do – to make the schools whole.”
NC Promise’s supporters tout the program as a step toward making higher education more affordable. WCU alumnus Tom Apodaca, a now retired state senator from Hendersonville, introduced the NC Promise legislation on behalf of Senate Pro Tem President Phil Berger, R-Eden.
Wargo said the university starts marketing NC Promise this spring, in front of the fall 2018 recruitment cycle. WCU starts accepting applications in August.
“We have communicated the urgency to the General Assembly, to make sure that we have that commitment firmly in writing,” she said.