Keep North Carolina education accessible

Dec. 26, 2013 @ 07:34 AM

Sixteen states allow undocumented students who meet the residency requirements for in-state tuition to pay that rate to attend public colleges and universities.

The roster hardly reads like a who's who of blue-tinted, left-leaning states. California and New York make the list, of course, but so do such conservative stalwarts as Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah and Texas.

Many leaders of the University of North Carolina system - as well as a host of other advocacy groups - would like to see North Carolina join that list. Earlier this month, the UNC Chapel Hill Faculty Council added its voice to that chorus.

The resolution, UNC Chapel Hill's new chancellor, Carol Folt, said afterward, reflects the state's long-stated - in fact, constitutionally pledged - mission to make higher education accessible and affordable for all its residents.

"It's really in keeping with who we are," she said.

Indeed it is, as we have long felt.

For the few undocumented students who now attend UNC — often with private scholarships — and the many more whose academic credentials would earn them a slot at a state college or university, the difference is substantial. For in-state students, tuition and fees are $8,340 a year. That multiplies by almost four times — to $30,122 — for out-of-state students.

Over four years — not even accounting for the virtually inevitable annual increases — a UNC degree costs an out-of-state student $120,488, or some $87,000 more than a North Carolina resident.

Unless, of course, that resident is undocumented. Then, it does not matter that a bright, promising young man or woman has grown up in Durham or Manteo or Murphy, or points in between, has been a standout at his her high school and offers the prospect of a valuable addition to our state's human capital. The tab for that student is same as for someone who calls Los Angeles or Chicago or Santee, S.C., home.

It makes no sense. For most of these potential students, their choice of where to call home was dictated, often a decade or more before they entered high school, by parents seeking a better life for them here. They are North Carolinians by upbringing and immersion.

To deny them in-state tuition is to virtually deny them access to our acclaimed university system — to lengthen considerably the odds they will enter the workforce undereducated and underemployed.

That, in turn, is likely not only to deprive of us their full potential but also to increase the chance of long-term cost to society for food stamps, medical care and other assistance.

This state some years ago saw fit to ask scholarship athletes from out of state to pay only in-state tuition — stretching athletic scholarship funds in an egregious and since reversed example of the sway of athletic boosters.

If we could do that then, we should be able to grant those in-state rates to truly in-state residents, whatever their immigration status. It is to the state's long-term economic benefit — and it is the right thing to do.


This editorial originally appeared in The (Durham) Herald Sun