The List: 5 ways to improve NC higher education

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by Chris Nafekh

1. Expand student representation

The UNC Board of Governors represents more than 221,000 students across 17 campuses. A 34-member conglomerate of attorneys, businessmen and former legislators, the board manages the budget, programs and affairs of the UNC system. Although the UNC system encompasses diverse institutions, almost the entire board is white; it’s not representative of the student body. There’s only one student board member, Zack King, who studies at NC State University. King joined the board as president of the UNC Association of Student Governments, a position he was democratically elected to by students. The lack of student and minority representation is unjust, and the only way to change it is through the legislature.

2. Quit cutting programs

Earlier this year, the board voted to terminate a total of 46 programs including a number of arts programs at UNC School of the Arts in Winston-Salem. The board of governors defunded UNC-Chapel Hill’s Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity despite prompt public outcry. On one hand, the board needs to balance the budget. On the other, NC State Chancellor Randy Woodson recently defended a new $15 million “boutique” athletics dormitory. Though Woodson insists it will be privately funded, shouldn’t the money go into tuition breaks or libraries? Why fund luxury housing for college athletes when the system is cutting crucial programs and facilities?

3. Treat athletes fairly

This is a humble request: Hold athletes to the same academic standards as all other students. After a humiliating scandal at UNC-Chapel Hill in which professors and coaches gave athletes fraudulently high grades through fake classes — for 18 years straight – it’s time for UNC to focus on academics and not athletics. The athletes involved in this incident didn’t receive a proper education.  What many athletes do receive is a free ride, meanwhile less fortunate students labor through their classes and tuition payments. They may attract attention and revenue by playing ball, but universities should be judged by the quality of the education it provides, not the banners hanging from the rafters.

4. Make tuition affordable

Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley speak the same language: Make education affordable. The board or governors raises tuition at UNCG regularly; it’s been done five times in the past six years. UNC-Chapel Hill charges over $33,000 for out of state tuition. In a perfect world (that is, Sweden) students wouldn’t pay tuition. Regardless of the means by which tuition is made cheaper, lower costs will ease the unreasonable debt students often graduate with; the state legislature has a few options to aid funding of higher education.

5. Raise funding

Twenty percent of the UNC system’s budget is tax money. Raising corporate taxes and funding higher education could lower tuition, yet politicians campaign against tax increases. In Colorado, the state legislature legalized marijuana to regulate and tax as a commodity. All the tax dollars generated by pot production went directly into the high school system. Now, the state’s drop-out and success rates are better than before legalization. North Carolina could emulate Colorado’s policy to fund either the high school or university. It’s easier said than done, but this should be considered a viable option. It worked well in Colorado, so why not here?