Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Higher Education Leaders Talk College Affordability

By John D. Bland

Approximately 60 percent of students who have transferred to UNC Charlotte and were enrolled last spring are working an average of 26 hours per week in order to defray the rising costs of higher education. And of the UNC Charlotte, for the 2011-2012 academic year of graduation 65 percent of the 1,837 graduating seniors bore an average of $23,686 of school loan debt.

Ron Carter, Pamela Davis, Phil Dubois, Tony Zeiss
Those are some of facts that factored into discussion of college affordability with local higher education leaders on July 3. Chancellor Dubois and presidents Ron Carter of Johnson C. Smith University, Pamela Davies of Queens University of Charlotte, and Tony Zeiss of Central Piedmont Community College, and UNC Charlotte Provost Joan Lorden, talked about challenges to and potential solutions regarding college affordability, at a roundtable discussion sponsored and moderated by Sen. Kay Hagan at UNC Charlotte Center City. Students and staff form the schools, and local TV and newspaper reporters attended.

The discussion was arranged by Hagan to get input from the education leaders and students that will inform efforts by Congress to manage the spiraling cost of higher education, including the rising cost of student loans and diminishing availability of popular Pell grants.

Some of the observations from the Dubois, Lorden and the presidents:
- Dubois said the United States has undergone a “terrific disinvestment in higher education” during recent decades, especially during the Great Recession. But he said “North Carolina has tried to sustain funding for higher education.”

- Dubois said the number of UNC Charlotte students getting Pell grants has doubled in the last five years, based on financial need. Cuts to the federal Pell grant program creates an affordability dilemma for those students that may require them to work more or drop out. And even if they manage to stay in school but work more hours, working an average of 26 hours per week is “not a good recipe for success,” Dubois said.

- JCSU’s Carter said that changes to the qualifying criteria for federal Parent Plus student loans knocked 128,000 students at historically black universities and colleges out of school. He said at JCSU, 100 student were forced to drop out and another 200 had to seek out discounts to stay in school.

- CPCC’s Zeiss said that tuition at CP has increased 70 percent since 20007 while state funding has dropped by 24 percent, taking a heavy toll on the 28,000 CP college-credit students who have financial aid.

Hagan said that for the first time, student loan debt exceeds credit card debt nationwide.

Hagan recently introduced the Keep Student Loans Affordable Act of 2013, which would keep the interest rate on subsidized federal Stafford loans at the current rate of 3.4 percent for an additional year. The interest rate on federal Stafford loans doubled to 6.8 percent for 176,000 North Carolina students on July 1.

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John Bland is director of public relations.

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