Three issues from 1999 to watch in 2000

The beginning of a new year is really only the progression of one day after the next, natural and mundane, but human custom has made it so that we note it as the crossing of a threshold. This customary observance is heightened now as the upcoming threshold is especially (but only) numerically significant (from year 1999 to year 2000). Here Clarion Call bows to custom to mark this crossing by presenting three higher-education issues of 1999 that will bear watching in 2000.

Financing the Infrastructure Needs of the UNC System.

Buried amid the wish-list luxuries crammed into the bond package for the UNC system that failed last summer were some real emergency needs. An analysis of the plan by Pope Center Director George Leef (“Bond, Strange Bond,” Pope Center Inquiry No. 1, June 28) found that, of the nearly $5 billion in capital spending the non-voter-approved bonds would have paid for, only $1.1 billion of it was needed for the advertised purpose of the plan, repairing crumbling academic infrastructure. The challenge to the UNC system in the coming year is to cut the dross from their list of needs before taking it to the legislature. As Leef showed, such a request could then be handled through the existing budget process without the need for new state debt.

Tuition Increases at Public N.C. Universities.

A Pope Center study released last summer showed that taxpayers in N.C. provided over 80 percent of the per-student cost of public higher education — the second-highest share in the nation. The study suggested that students should foot more of the bill. So far five UNC schools have proposed tuition increases, but those increases would combine with increases in state appropriations, not offset decreases from shifting the burden from the taxpayers to the beneficiaries (students). A recent Washington Post report showed that students at flagship state universities had higher family incomes than students at private universities. The median annual family income for a private-university student was $46,863, compared with $51,231 for public-university students and approximately $75,000 for UNC-Chapel Hill students.
The families of undergraduates attending public colleges earned a median annual income of $51,231 compared to $46,863 at private colleges for the 1995-96 school year, according to the report. Median family income is approximately $75,000 at UNCCH. The Post study raised the question of subsidizing the rich through public universities.

Student fees.

The Supreme Court will soon rule on the legality of how the University of Wisconsin allocates a portion of a mandatory student fee. The issue, to both sides of the case, is First Amendment rights. The plaintiffs, students who object to the allocation of the fee to certain advocacy groups, cite their First Amendment right of free speech and assembly in desiring not to be compelled to fund organizations whose missions they detest. The university also cites the right to free speech, which it claims would be abridged by virtue of the advocacy groups’ loss of funding. The university is appealing a decision by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in favor of the students.

The issue of students fees is important to most universities in N.C., which impose mandatory fees (in addition to tuition) and allocate them similar to the way Wisconsin did. Recently, for example, N.C. Central President Julius Chambers objected to a plan on that campus to increase the mandatory fee by 12.9 percent.