This week the UNCG Board of Trustees meets to consider raising tuition by the maximum legal amount, a jump of about $550 — 5 percent a year for the next two school years.

It’s troubling, because our state had always prided itself on having the best public university system in the country. Recent cuts in Raleigh to the UNC System have reduced our boast to calling our public network of colleges one of the best in the country. Soon we’ll be saying that we have a public university system, a pretty good one for those who can afford it.

It’s a sea change from the time when affordable higher education was something we valued enough to actually support the concept with our tax dollars instead of seeming to support it with our words.

This disdain for the UNC System is a new thing, brought on by the shift in power in our state General Assembly by people for whom education has never been a priority. Tuition and fees at UNCG have already gone up more than $2,000 since 2009 — this year a resident of the state paid $12,770 to attend two semesters at UNCG.

UNC School of the Arts is even more pricey: about $16,000 a year, making NC A&T University (about $12,000) and Winston-Salem State (just under $11,000) look like bargains.

And the flagship school in Chapel Hill costs more than $24,000 a year for in-state residents. Out-of-state residents pay more than $50,000 a year for the honor of being Tarheels.

It looks like a systematic effort to create a privileged class by denying higher ed to poor people — which, if they’re defined as people who don’t have an extra $10 grand lying around, is a rapidly growing demographic.

And it runs directly in opposition to the tenets of the UNC System itself, laid out in our state’s constitution in 1776.

It’s right there in article XLI, a wonderfully articulated piece of legislation in the same document we used to tell King George III to shove it.

“That a school or schools shall be established by the Legislature… with such salaries to the masters, paid by the public, as may enable them to instruct at low prices; and all useful learning shall be duly encouraged, and promoted, in one or more universities.”

So the question is this: At what point do the ever-rising tuitions at the people’s universities push not only against values and tradition, but also run afoul of the law?

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