BY DR. JAMES ANDERSON, CHANCELLOR OF FAYETTEVILLE STATE UNIVERSITY
Recent articles published in several newspapers and online have attempted to represent the position of those who publically call for radical changes in the UNC system. Specifically, one of these proposals involves potential changes to mandate that the least qualified of students accepted to UNC schools be required to attend community colleges and earn an associate’s degree before they are allowed to attend a UNC school. Other proposals include such options as:
- a) Raise the admissions criteria at all UNC institutions from the current Grade Point Average of 2.5 to 2.7;
- b) Specify that a percentage of students already committed to UNC schools be directed to NC Community Colleges)
- c) Lower the in-state tuition to $500 and out-of-state tuition to $2,500 of “selected” campuses, a plan that would potentially alter the size and diversity of certain “select” campuses; and
- d) Merge and re-name certain “select” Generally, these potential options are proffered as ways to increase graduation rates, to reduce student debt, to increase college readiness, and to reduce the number of UNC campuses. However, the potential also exists to have a disparate impact on certain campuses.
At the outset I unequivocally state that it is the responsibility of the General Assembly and the Board of Governors to monitor persistence and graduation rates, student debt, and the efficiency and effectiveness of all 17 UNC institutions. And, when possible changes are discussed, especially radical changes, that they involve a review of the best research, best practices, best models, best data/metrics, and predictive analytics that are available. Anything less embodies conjecture, subjective projection, and the dangerous possibility that outcomes will be produced that are harmful to our most precious commodity – students enrolled in UNC institutions who will drive the economy of this state one day and emerge as its future leaders.
The “select” institutions who are the primary targets of many of the proposals are three of the five Historically Black Universities and UNC Pembroke whose original mission involved the admission of American Indian students. But the question remains: Why these institutions? Fayetteville State University is one of the most diverse campuses in the system so why is a diversity criteria being applied to us? We are racially diverse and we serve high percentages of adult students, commuters, the military, and online students. One would think that a discussion this critical about potential radical changes to certain UNC institutions would involve their respective Chancellors and Board of Trustee chairs. This is more striking since our institutions have a history of being underfunded and treated in a less than respectful manner. I have not been contacted by anyone who previously have suggested changes. Like most people I read about it in the media or have picked up information on the grapevine. Since the size, make-up, and economy of any UNC institution are fundamental to their very existence, I find it profoundly unprofessional that others, who know little about FSU and the other “select” institutions are having public discussions about our future.
The only person who has contacted me and some of the other Chancellors is Mr. Craig Horn, the Chair of the House Standing Committee of Appropriations for Education. I am very grateful for his courtesy and for extending us his professional respect.He is seeking to encourage thoughtful and collaborative discussions about the proposals.
LITTLE EVIDENCE TO SUPPORT PROPOSALS
As I indicated earlier it is reasonable, professional, and ethically important that discussions about radical changes among UNC institutions be guided by what we know that works, what is effective, and what benefits students the most. Virtually little evidence has been offered to support the aforementioned proposals. In fact, there exists a strong body of research and evidence that directly contradicts some of the proposals and suggests that they will result in more harm than good. Some states that have instituted radical changes in tuition and performance measures have experienced unexpected outcomes.
Of course persistence and graduation rates need to improve and no one challenges that. However, relying solely on a four-year graduation rate masks the fact that those rates are influenced by multiple factors: students may lack funds, students are raising families, academic majors are not available every semester, state budget reductions cause a loss of faculty and a reduction in available classes, etc. Over the last several years the UNC system schools have increased admission standards and progression standards (semester-to-semester persistence), and have accepted their evaluation against 10 mutually agreed upon assessment/evaluation metrics initiated by the Board of Governors. We have also limited the acceleration of tuition and fees. Acceptance of these changes were grounded in collaborative discussions about the merit of proposed changes, a review of good research and data, and most importantly, a desire to improve the quality of education for our students. The supporters of some of the new proposals have offered little evidence other than to say that graduation rates need to increase and then to arbitrarily suggest two options. Moreover, the belief that forcibly sending students to community college first will increase their transfer back to a UNC campus is contradicted by data that has been documented and generated by many sources and other state systems. Journalist John Newsome cites evidence in the Greensboro News and Record (“The Syllabus: Drowning Bunnies in North Carolina, 2-15-2016) that North Carolina trails the national average on three community college performance measures: fewer community college students on the average transfer to a four-year school (24 percent); b) fewer get a certificate or degree before leaving community college (25 percent); and c) fewer end up getting a four year degree (40 percent). It is important to note that community college students do perform fairly well when they do go to UNC schools. The 2+2 agreement between Fayetteville State University and Fayetteville Tech CC assures that students who get associates’ degrees will be successful when they enroll at FSU mainly because our faculties have collaborated on developing a success model. It is essential to put faculty and staff at the center of this discussion, not politicians.
UNC Chapel Hill scholar Dr. James Johnson has developed an articulate and evidenced-based argument on the inevitable impact of the “browning” of North Carolina. Demographic changes involving the increased presence of people of color will become a primary factor that drives the state economy in the future. Some may perceive that there is a lack of commitment to diversity in that certain proposals for change may target underserved students of all races: students of color, returning adults and commuters who have to work, and low income students. It is essential to put faculty and staff at the center of this discussion, not politicians.
THE FALLACY OF STATE-MANDATED TUITION
It has been suggested by some that reducing the tuition to $500 (in-state) or $2500 (out-of-state) for“select” UNC schools will increase their enrollment as more NC residents will be encouraged to enroll. Three major issues need to be understood because they challenge the purported logic of this flat tuition suggestion. First, a powerful study that recently appeared in the Economics of Education Review:47 (2015) 80-89 concluded this about state-mandated tuition policies: “although these laws offer predictability in tuition for students, the inherent financial risk built into these programs appear to encourage overall tuition increases, which is not clearly beneficial to students and families. In fact, a guaranteed tuition law appears to be a driver of tuition increases.” The study examined a national data-set and the Illinois Truth-in-Tuition law.
The second concern is that families and students will find it difficult to compare a state-mandated guaranteed rate ($500 &$2500) to a traditional rate of tuition. While sounding enticing, it may lead to a competitive disadvantage for the “select” institutions. After all if someone offers to sell you a $500 car wouldn’t you question its value? The authors of the study suggest that allowing annual adjustments to tuition charges will create more transparency surrounding tuition inflation and potentially more straightforward policy discussions of tuition.
Finally, a reduced flat tuition policy for “select” UNC schools may further challenge the capacity of community colleges as UNC schools mandate that more students attend community colleges. As open-admissions institutions they have to absorb students sent to them by the UNC schools, and they will be faced with absorbing all new costs.
I am waiting on a rational explanation as to why there needs to be a name change among the “select” institutions. Let’s be honest: Appalachian State, East Carolina, Western Carolina, and North Carolina A&T are not going to be asked to change their name. So why us or other HBU’s? Is it because of what has recently occurred in South Carolina where institutions were merged and some names then changed? That alone is not enough of a reason. Excellence is the name of the game – not name changes. FSU recently entered into a memorandum of agreement with one of the most prominent national research laboratories in the world: Oak Ridge National Laboratories in Tennessee. We are the first HBCU to be selected for the mentor-protégé program. This is the same laboratory that supports research among institutions like UNC Chapel Hill, NC State, Harvard, Stanford, Virginia Tech, U of Michigan, etc. They valued our commitment to STEM and the success to date of our Center for Defense and Homeland Security, and our elite high school STEM initiative (the A.G.O.R.A. project). Many of our students now intern at Oak Ridge and at MIT Lincoln labs. FSU is the first HBCU and only the 10th university nationwide to be awarded the FSU Geospatial Intelligence Certificate Program. We are now designated as a Center for Academic Excellence for Geospatial Sciences by the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency.
Many of our academic and online programs are now nationally ranked compared to all institutions in North Carolina and in the country. Several are in the top ten and these are not weak rankings like the U.S. News and World Report. Nurse Journal.org ranks FSU’s nursing program as #2 in the East and Southeast based upon an evaluation of 1,189 programs. A 100% pass rate on the nursing licensure exam has become a standard (3 of the last 4 years). The Criminal Justice program is ranked #5 in the U.S. by GoGrad.org. According to the Social Science Research Network (SSRN.org) the FSU School of Business and Economics is ranked 3d in North Carolina behind Duke and Chapel Hill. So, why do we need to change our name? I can offer many other examples of our excellence and our commitment to student success. I repeat, Excellence is the name of the game – not name changes.
In 2017 Fayetteville State University will have a 150th birthday celebration. Our 149 year history to date has led us to this point of excellence and more is to come.NC leaders are charged with examining big important issues across many social, political, economic and educational dimensions that affect the future of this state. The UNC system has historically been identified as one of the premiere systems in the country and its minority serving institutions receive similar accolades. Now, is not the time to abandon the collaborative, respectful, and evidenced-based discussions that will help us to shape our future.
Dr. James Anderson is Chancellor and Professor of Psychology at Fayetteville State University.