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CULLOWHEE – The Western Carolina University Board of Trustees approved a schedule of tuition and fees for the 2014-15 academic year that includes no change in the cost of tuition for students from North Carolina and a 1.85 percent increase in mandatory fees.
The proposal, unanimously approved by the board at its regular quarterly meeting Friday (Dec. 6) contains a legislatively mandated 6 percent increase in tuition for out-of-state students. It also follows guidance from the University of North Carolina General Administration earlier this year that encouraged campuses of the UNC system not to raise the cost of tuition for in-state students.
The plan would mean a $52 annual increase in mandatory fees for undergraduate students. The proposed schedule of tuition and fees is subject to approval by the UNC Board of Governors and the General Assembly.
The WCU board approved increases of 6.47 percent (or $18 per year) in the health services fee and 7.92 percent (or $42 per year) in the student activity fee, with no increases in the athletics fee or the education and technology fee.
Ed Broadwell, chair of the trustees’ finance and audit committee, presented the schedule of tuition and fees to the full board for approval following an afternoon of open discussion and committee meetings Thursday, Dec. 5.
“This proposed increase to the student activity fee will be used for the ongoing increases in personnel expenses, including salaries and benefits, for increased utility expenses at A.K. Hinds University Center and the Campus Recreation Center, and for increased operational budgets – Greek life, for example – and other programming expenses,” said Broadwell, vice chair of the trustees.
The board approved a 5.61 percent increase ($12 a year) in the undergraduate book rental fee and endorsed a new student-initiated sustainability fee of $10 a year to fund environmental initiatives such as solar energy and recycling programs. In addition, an administrative computing fee of $52 a year was eliminated and the transportation fee was increased 22.92 percent ($22 a year) to fund campus transit efforts, including the installation of GPS tracking devices on university shuttle buses.
The board also approved increases in residence hall room rates ranging from 3 to 5.4 percent and an increase of about 5 percent in the cost of campus dining service meal plans. “The proposed rates for food service will cover increased food costs, personnel costs, enhanced hours at the food venues at the University Center and upgrades to the food court program,” Broadwell said.
Eight information sessions held on campus during the fall semester and Thursday’s committee meetings and discussions featured much debate focused on whether to increase food service rates after the N.C. General Assembly’s recent repeal of a long-standing exemption on sales taxes charged on student meal plans. As part of a state tax reform bill, sales tax must now be collected on student meal plans, effective Jan. 1. Beginning with the spring 2014 semester, all meal plans will be taxed at a rate of 6.75 percent.
Because revenue from the newly added sales tax on meal plan purchases will go directly to state coffers and not to help meet rising campus food service expenses, the trustees’ finance and audit committee concluded that a rate increase was necessary to maintain quality and meet student demands for longer hours of service and more choices, Broadwell said.
Board Chair Teresa Williams said that even with the increase in student fees for the coming year, WCU will remain among the least-expensive higher education institutions in the state and that the university will maintain its tradition of offering a high-quality education at a reasonable cost.
With the proposed changes approved by the board, WCU’s average total cost of attendance in 2014-15, including standard residence hall accommodations and the most-popular meal plan, would be $13,335 per year (fall and spring semester) for a typical N.C. undergraduate student, a 3 percent increase over current year costs.
In addition to student tuition and fees, the board also endorsed a five-year approach to solving long-term campus parking issues. Beginning in fall 2014, employee parking permits will be sold in a tiered system based on salary level, with the lowest paid employees paying the least for permits and those employees who have the highest salaries and who have reserved parking spaces paying the most.
Student parking permits will be sold on the basis of earned academic credits, with freshmen paying the highest rates while seniors and graduate students pay lower rates.