Sparked by its new $500-per-semester tuition, Western Carolina University has set a new record for student enrollment this spring.
It’s the latest success story of the N.C. Promise program, passed by the Republican-led General Assembly in 2016. The idea was to expand access to higher education and address ballooning tuition costs while also jumpstarting a few historically lower-performing state universities. The plan: Lowering tuition dramatically, but backfilling the budget with $51 million in state money.
Initially, the plan was to include numerous universities across the state, but Democrats pilloried the program as a racist way to starve historically black colleges.
In the end, just three universities joined the program: Western Carolina, UNC-Pembroke and Elizabeth City State University.
The $500 tuition went into effect at those three campuses in fall 2018. The effects have been immediately felt.
Elizabeth City State University quickly saw a spike in applicants — a big deal for a school where enrollment plummeted by more than half during the recession. UNC-Pembroke reported interest in their programs expanding my many multiples.
At Western Carolina, enrollment has now topped 11,000 for the first time. The N.C. Promise program was like a “booster rocket,” assistant vice chancellor for undergraduate enrollment Phil Cauley told WLOS.
Cover image via Western Carolina University