Education is a right, an investment in our people, and the most important part of our future as a state. Furthermore, we believe UNC should honor the voices of students, faculty, and staff who make it what it is. The Board of Governors, along with our NC General Assembly holds the legal power to create a UNC system that is accessible to all students and guarantees its graduates be debt-free. We at the NC Student Power Union call upon the University of North Carolina Board of Governors:
-To reduce tuition and increase financial aid incrementally so that, by 2020, the incoming class of all NC public universities will graduate free of student debt;
-To ensure that the funding for these tuition cuts do not compromise the quality of our public universities, we call for a moratorium on cuts in faculty pay and funding for departments, especially those cut in recent budgets;
-And to hold forums open to students, faculty, staff, and community members at every Board of Governors meeting so as to include the voices of those who make the university run in decisions about our shared future.
The mission statement of our university system cites section 9 of the North Carolina Constitution, stating one of its primary missions is “ to 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.” While the language of “free as practicable” leaves room for debate, we as students and residents of North Carolina can be sure that the writers of our state constitution did not envision a UNC that forces young people to take on significant debt to access college. Under current policies, however, we are asking them to do just that.
Students and families across North Carolina are increasingly burdened with debt or lack the resources to attend a university due to high tuition and cost increases in higher education. Nationwide, education debt now represents over $1 trillion dollars, higher than credit card debt. While UNC system graduates on average take less debt than their peers in other states, roughly two-thirds of students still leave school with an average of over $15,000 debt.
Rising costs and debt has also disproportionately impacted women and students of color. A campus progress study stated that 81% of African American students leave with school with debt, compared with 65% of their white peers. The same study cited that of latino students who chose not to attend college, 74% list financial burden as a primary factor in their decision. While debt numbers for women are consistent to men, the persistent wage gap means women often face a higher burden in paying off their student loans.
We are called as young people in North Carolina to ask how this is allowed to happen in a state where the constitution calls for an education free of costs as practicable. The answer lies in whose voices participate in decisions about our financial future. Our UNC Board of Governors has 32 members, including nearly two dozen businesspeople and political donors. Of these members only one is a student. This student cannot vote or speak without permission of other board members and is not directly elected by the young people they serve.
We call upon the Board of Governors to create an open public forum around rising costs and debt at their meeting on April 11th, 2014, at which time they will hear policy alternatives for a debt-free UNC offered by students, faculty, and policy experts in the field.