A strong economy depends on talented people. And North Carolina is stronger than ever because the North Carolina General Assembly, by way of our state’s taxpayers, have chosen time and time again to invest in the education of our citizens. The state budget approved last month makes major strides in continuing our support of higher education, ensuring that every person in our state has a range of great options beyond high school. 

Our continued investment in our universities has allowed the University of North Carolina System to provide a world-class education that is now less expensive for resident undergraduate students in North Carolina today than it was 10 years ago, when adjusted for inflation. 

Today, nearly 250,000 students are enrolled in our 16 public universities across the state and at the NC School of Science and Mathematics (these institutions make up the UNC System). For the eighth straight year, the UNC System has not raised tuition for North Carolina residents. Additionally, North Carolina’s Fixed Tuition Program specifies that any North Carolina resident entering a four-year undergraduate program at a UNC System school will pay the same rate of tuition for eight consecutive semesters. 

Keeping tuition flat and affordable is one of several steps the UNC System and the North Carolina General Assembly have taken to lower costs for students. 

Additionally, under the NC Promise Tuition Plan, which the North Carolina General Assembly created and has funded since 2017, North Carolina residents attending Elizabeth City State University, the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, Fayetteville State University, and Western Carolina University pay just $500 per semester in tuition. The NC Promise Tuition Plan reaffirms the state’s commitment to making the university experience affordable and accessible to all. 

Among all states, North Carolina has the third lowest tuition-and-fee sticker price for residents who attend public four-year universities, according to 2022-23 data from the College Board. Average student debt upon graduation has dropped for UNC System students since 2019-20, a refreshing contrast to longstanding national trends. As student loan payments resume in October nationally, the UNC System reports an 8-percentage-point drop in the number of in-state undergraduates who carry federal student loan debt at graduation. 

That laser focus on affordability for students and families is underwritten by the North Carolina General Assembly’s strong investment in our colleges and universities. And it continues to pay off for all North Carolinians. 

Our state consistently ranks as a top destination for business and investment, driven in large part by a growing pool of talented, well-educated people eager to stay here or move here. You can’t build local businesses or attract worldwide firms like Apple, Bosch, or Wolfspeed unless you have smart and well-prepared employees to staff them. Companies across nearly all economic sectors report that hiring is their No. 1 concern. 

In North Carolina, we know there must be more than one pathway to a promising career, and higher education is an important part of a broader ecosystem of opportunity. It’s how we’ve built a world-class workforce, which CNBC recognized when it ranked North Carolina the best state for business two years running. 

We’re proud of the effort that has gone into making North Carolina one of the best places in the nation to live and work. Because a state that invests in its people keeps its people. It’s that simple. 

Reps. Hardister and Pickett chair the House Standing Committee on Education – Universities in the North Carolina House of Representatives.