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Tuition cuts from NC Promise delivering results

Major tuition cuts are paying off at three North Carolina universities.

Data released Aug. 31 show jumps in enrollment at a handful of schools in the University of North Carolina System. The change comes after the legislature’s 2016 passage of NC Promise, a plan to cut in-state tuition at Elizabeth City State University, UNC Pembroke, and Western Carolina University to just $500 a semester. Out-of-state tuition also will drop to $2,500 a semester under the plan.

State legislators invested $51 million in the program. Their main goal was to improve enrollment at some of North Carolina’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities, although only ECSU chose to participate in NC Promise.

Tuition cuts launch this year. No sunset for the program has been planned by the N.C. General Assembly.

Undergrad transfer rates saw the largest spike, with ECSU at a 57 percent increase over 2017, data from UNC show. UNCP saw a 56 percent bump in the same category, while WCU scored a 40 percent increase.

First-year enrollment jumped 20 percent at ECSU and UNCP, and just over 10 percent at WCU since 2017. Total undergrad enrollment at ECSU, UNCP, and WCU shot up 19 percent, 14 percent, and 6.6 percent, respectively.

The cuts apply only to tuition — excluding costs like room and board, fees, and books.

“NC Promise builds on our state’s long-standing commitment to keeping its public education system affordable for all North Carolinians,” said UNC President Margaret Spellings. “All NC Promise institutions are uniquely tied to historically underserved regions and have long been pillars of their community.”

ECSU, an HBCU with a total enrollment of about 1,300, is uniquely set to benefit from the program. The university hit rough turf between 2010 and 2016 when enrollment plunged 59 percent. Budget cuts and leadership turnover also have plagued the university.

Today, NC Promise has driven ECSU enrollment to a five-year high, officials said in a press release. The 2018 freshman class “includes the largest number of students enrolled in the honors program in ECSU history.”

Out-of-state students also are attracted to the affordable rates, said ECSU Interim Chancellor Karrie Dixon.

“We are incredibly grateful that the N.C. General Assembly acted to put an initiative in place to address access and affordability, making a quality education available for students from all backgrounds and walks of life.”