Before we were for it, we were against it.
The NC Promise program, first introduced in 2016 as SB 873 and then rolled into the House Appropriations Act that passed that year, dropped tuition at five schools in the UNC System to just $500 per semester for in-state and $2,500 for out-of-state students. And we suspected something right off.
Let’s remember that the North Carolina Legislature had five extra sessions that year, and had been using these extra sessions to pass unpopular legislation like HB 2— the anti-transgender Bathroom Bill — and shady redistricting plans.
And NC Promise seemed racist, coming from a legislature that had espoused white-supremacist values and targeting, as it did, several HBCUs and UNC Pembroke, which serves the large Lumbee population of Robeson County.
But at the heart of it was a deep mistrust of the NC Republicans who controlled the legislature and the Governor’s Mansion at the time, their open disdain for the UNC System, penchant for political trickery and racist undertones of their party. Just two years earlier, the legislature had floated the idea of shuttering Elizabeth City State University, a tiny HBCU, altogether.
We, and many other progressives, thought they were trying to drown these HBCUs in a bathtub, as the old saying goes. Winston-Salem State University, originally included in the plan, petitioned successfully for removal. And everyone waited for things to get worse.
But that’s not what happened.
As a recent piece by the Chronicle of Higher Ed and the Assembly documents, NC Promise has been a success for its three member institutions by any measure, rejuvenating Pembroke and Elizabeth City State, and enabling Western Carolina University to poach bargain shoppers who might otherwise have chosen Appalachian State University or UNC-Asheville. It created 50 scholarships for NC A&T State University. Another HBCU, Fayetteville State University will come on board this year.
Hard to believe that this is the same legislature that stacked the UNC Board of Governors with political lackeys which then disrespected 1619 Project creator Nikole Hannah-Jones and gave a white-supremacist group $2.5. million to maintain the Silent Sam statue. And let’s not forget their open hostility to the Leandro decision, which allocates new spending for public schools.
Senate Majority Leader Phil Berger called NC Promise “one of the better policy decisions we have made in the last 10 years.” Phil Berger!
It’s a big win for the UNC System and for the state. And it’s something concrete that our legislature has done for marginalized communities.
And so we must eat our words about NC Promise, penned back in 2016. Our position has changed. Turns out this wasn’t a dirty trick after all. Go figure.
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