Out of state provision is out of sync

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 12, 2005

North Carolina legislators slipped another one past the state’s taxpayers.

During the Senate’s latest session, it passed a new law that treats out of state students on full scholarship at any of the state’s publicly funded universities as in-state students. This allows out of state students, who pay about $12,000 a year more than in-state students to attend NCSU and about $14,000 more a year to attend UNC-Chapel Hill, to be reclassified as North Carolina residents.

So why is this bad idea?

This new law allows schools in the UNC system to admit more non-North Carolinians because these schools, funded by North Carolina taxpayers, won’t have to count out of state scholarship students toward the system’s 18 percent limit on out of state students.

The powers to be at UNC-Chapel Hill have been trying to weasel around the 18 percent limit for years and it looks like their high paid lobbyists have finally achieved one of their objectives.

The new provision was pushed by UNC-Chapel Hill supporters who are part of a big-spending political action committee. Their PAC contributed $362,000 to political candidates in the 2003-04 election cycle, surpassing the political contributions many big business interests made in the same cycle.

The new rule also substitutes state dollars, your tax dollars and mine, for those that used to be paid by private foundations to help finance these out of state students’ scholarships.

The N.C. School Boards Association plans to send a letter to legislators, calling for a repeal of the provision.

“Our membership is very upset about it,” said Leanne Winner, the association’s director of governmental relations. “Public school leaders went to bat for the UNC system in 2000 during the campaign for a bond referendum that authorized $3.1 billion in spending on campus construction and now they feel betrayed.

“They see their children applying to the campuses and getting turned down, and they see this as taking away seats,” Winner added.

The law will save tens of millions of dollars annually for private foundations like the Morehead Foundation, the Pack Scholarship fund and booster organizations like the Rams Club and Wolfpack Club, but it will cost taxpayers.

Booster groups use donations to pay scholarship costs for athletes and this new law will benefit the athletic teams at these schools, but how does this benefit the students from North Carolina?

Parents of in-state students watch tuition rates rise and now they are being forced to help fund scholarships for out of staters.

During this same legislative session, UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State University officials attempted to have another law passed that would have given those universities power to set their own tuition levels without going through the UNC Board of Governors. After UNC system leaders and the Board of Governors, including out-going UNC system President Molly Broad and former President William Friday, criticized the proposal, it was removed.

Many of the guidelines of the new provision were developed by the staff of Senate Majority Leader Marc Basnight, who argued the use of state funds to offset scholarship costs is good for universities because more out of state students will help diversify campuses. Accepting more students with pet iguanas named Jake would diversify campuses also, but neither helps with the education of students from North Carolina.

John Locke Foundation President John Hood summed it up best.

“The special provision amounts to a state subsidy for wealthy university benefactors. It wasn’t a subsidy for the students; they already had a free ride. It’s clearly a transfer of money from taxpayers to donors. I don’t know how else you dress this up.”