North Carolina: The Higher Education State

Affordable higher education is deeply engrained in North Carolina’s identity—after all, the imperative to provide low-cost university education is literally written into the state’s constitution. Article IX, Section 9 of the North Carolina State Constitution requires that “the General Assembly shall provide that the benefits of The University of North Carolina and other public institutions of higher education, as far as practicable, be extended to the people of the State free of expense.” 

Today, the UNC System, along with the North Carolina Community College System, represents the state’s fulfillment of this constitutional mandate.

North Carolina’s Mighty Engine 

UNC System President Emeritus William Friday famously called the University a “mighty engine,” driving opportunity, prosperity, invention, and innovation across the state.  Affordability is the fuel that gives this engine its horsepower, ensuring that all North Carolinians have the means to take advantage of the many higher education options across the state.

North Carolina’s public universities have always been among the best values in the nation. In 2014-15, nearly forty percent of first-time, full-time UNC System graduates had no student loan debt. As a whole, North Carolina graduates had among the lowest debt-loads in the country, ranking 40th on average debt among graduates from four-year institutions.

Two statewide initiatives in particular reflect this commitment. NC Promise lowers the price of in-state tuition to $500 per semester at three universities: Elizabeth City State University, UNC Pembroke, and Western Carolina University. Non-residents pay just $2,500 a semester to cover tuition costs at these three institutions.

The Fixed Tuition Program guarantees that tuition rates will not increase for four years of a student’s continuous undergraduate enrollment. Once students are enrolled in any UNC System university, their tuition remains the same for eight consecutive semesters, as long as they remain enrolled at their home institution.

Efficiency Leads to Affordability

In its efforts to keep tuition costs down, the UNC System prioritizes operational efficiency and each institution’s financial flexibility.

In addition, the UNC System invests in strategies to minimize course redundancies and increase course access. Our ultimate goal is to help students graduate on time. For example, across the entire System, the uniform standard for the number of credits in a major is 120 hours, except when special exceptions apply. This policy ensures that a four-year degree timeline is within reach of practically every full-time student.

The UNC System also encourages prospective students to earn university credits before they even set foot on a university campus. With the UNC System’s Advanced Placement (AP) credit policy, the standard for credit across the 16 universities in the System is a score of “three” or higher. By encouraging and rewarding college-level work in the high school classroom, this policy levels the playing field, making it easier for everyone in the state to transition from high school into the institution of their choice.

The UNC System has also established a Comprehensive Articulation Agreement with the North Carolina Community College System. This agreement makes it easier for students who have earned an associate degree at any one of North Carolina’s 58 community colleges to complete a bachelor’s degree at a UNC System institution within two years.

These and countless other efforts across the UNC System help students to earn their degrees more quickly and with less debt.