RALEIGH (July 20, 2023) – Members of the UNC Board of Governors showed Wednesday just what a microscope they use to probe UNC-Chapel Hill.
A week after the U.S. Supreme Court banned consideration of race in admissions at public and private universities – but specifically at Carolina and Harvard – UNC-CH Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz announced an expansion of existing financial aid to cover all tuition and required fees (about $9,000 a year) for students from households that make less than $80,000, starting with incoming students in 2024.
Guskiewicz said the university will abide by the Supreme Court decision, but it will also seek to expand access to North Carolinians. The university will hire five new “outreach officers” to work in poor communities across 27 counties – from Gaston to Craven – to assure families the university is affordable.
“We want the best students to know that a UNC-Chapel Hill education is a possibility for them,” he said.1
The expanded aid would help 150-200 students a year, and would cost an additional $500,000-600,000 – all of which would come from private donations, not state funds or tuition dollars.2
Duke University also announced before the court ruling that it would offer free tuition to students from North and South Carolina whose families earn $150,000 or less.3
“Our responsibility to comply with the law does not mean we will abandon our fundamental values as a university. We are and remain passionately public, and we will ensure that every student who earns admission to Carolina can come here and thrive,” Guskiewicz said.4
YESTERDAY, THOUGH, members of the UNC Board of Governors’ Budget and Finance Committee grilled Guskiewicz. Several members were irked that the chancellor didn’t notify the board before announcing the expansion in financial aid.
“I think the timing was awful,” said board Chair Randy Ramsey. “It may be within your authority, but this was a big announcement. I think just a little common courtesy would go a long way.”
“… To be perceived that it was done in reaction to the Supreme Court decision is just a terrible, terrible communication error on your part,” Ramsey told the chancellor.
Guskiewicz acknowledged even before Ramsey’s comments that rollout of the announcement could have been better.
“For that, I’m sorry,” he said. “Admittedly, we were excited about this and were excited to announce it to our campus community.”
“I think it’s important that people know the university serves all North Carolinians,” Guskiewicz said.
Noting that UNC-Chapel Hill received 63,000 applications last year for a class of 4,300, Ramsey also questioned the need to recruit more students.
“It seems a little odd to me that we’re gonna go recruit more people that are likely to be turned down,” he said.
Guskiewicz said the goal of the program is to reassure North Carolina students and families who don’t think they can afford UNC-Chapel Hill that they can – and to enroll students from all 100 North Carolina counties.
Newly appointed board member Woody White asked Guskiewicz why his statement about the Supreme Court ruling expressed disappointment.
Guskiewicz calmly explained that the university defended its holistic admissions process – where race was one factor among many considered – in court for seven years.
“That’s something we believed in,” he said, adding that as a UNC faculty member for 28 years, he has seen the benefits of “different lived experiences” in the classroom.
“That’s part of the disappointment,” he said. But he added that the university will abide by the court’s ruling. “It’s changed as of June 29th,” he said.
Philip Byers, the former sheriff in Rutherford County, wanted to know why the new plan didn’t include any outreach officers west of Gaston County. He called the announcement’s timing “horrible” and said he learned of it only through the newspaper.
“The communication could have and should have been better,” Guskiewicz replied. He said the university will try to expand its outreach further west.
Other board members were more supportive.
John Fraley said that if the outreach officers are modeled on the Carolina College Advising Corps, which places recent graduates as “near peer” advisors in North Carolina high schools, they will be “very worthwhile” in informing students and their families that they can attend Carolina or other colleges.
And Reginald Holley said he grew up in housing projects in Benson, but his education at Chapel Hill changed his life.
“Tuition should never, ever be a barrier to our citizens enjoying the benefits of the constituent institutions of the University of North Carolina,” Holley said.
“I applaud the commitment of my alma mater to provide this tuition opportunity to as many of our state’s citizens as may need it,” he said, citing the state constitution’s guarantee that a university education be “as far as practicable … free of expense.”
LATER, IN REMARKS to the full board, UNC System President Peter Hans tried to minimize the effects of the Supreme Court ruling on race-based admissions.
Only 6% of American students attend a university that might be considered highly selective, he said.
“Our 16 public universities offer great options for all North Carolinians,” drawing talent from all walks of life, Hans said.
Confidence in higher education is at historic lows, he said – a recent Gallup poll found barely one-third of Americans have a great deal of faith in colleges and universities.
Hans said he thinks those results involve “a sense that higher education has become distracted from our core mission of open opportunity, that too much time is spent on political activism and not enough time on affordability, quality, and career outcomes.”
He suggested the current obsession with divisive political issues is misplaced.
“Everyone goes to 4th grade, where they either learn to read well or not, in large part depending on how well we prepare their teachers. That’s the context and scale of what lies ahead for us,” Hans said.5
2 https://www.northcarolina.edu/apps/bog/doc.php?id=67451&code=bog, pp. 5-7.