UNCW fined for exceeding out-of-state enrollment cap

The campus at UNC-Wilmington sits empty on Friday, July 24, 2020.

The campus at UNC-Wilmington sits empty on Friday, July 24, 2020.

Should the UNC System Board of Governors revisit its policy on financially penalizing universities that exceed their limits on the percentage of first-year, out-of-state students they are allowed to enroll?

Some board members think so.

After exceeding its limit for the second year in a row, UNC Wilmington will face a $4.1 million penalty from the university system. It’s a move that generated lots of discussion — and suggestions for change — at a Board of Governors meeting last week in Greensboro.

Welcome to Dean’s List, a weekly roundup of higher education news in the Triangle and across North Carolina from The News & Observer and myself, Korie Dean. We plan to publish this roundup in an email newsletter format soon, but we wanted to first give you a taste, on our website, of the insights on higher education trends and research you can expect each week.

This week’s edition includes more on the UNC System board’s discussion of out-of-state enrollment penalties, an upcoming study on high school students earning college credits and more.

Let’s dive in.

UNCW fined for out-of-state enrollment

The fine UNCW faces stems from a UNC System policy limiting the number of nonresident, or out-of-state, undergraduate students that each university in the system is allowed to enroll. That policy, which increased nonresident caps for some schools last fall, sets the following limits:

  • Appalachian State University, NC State University, UNC-Chapel Hill, UNC Charlotte and UNC Wilmington are capped at 18%, the rate most schools generally followed before the Board of Governors raised some caps in recent years.

  • East Carolina University, Fayetteville State University, UNC Asheville, UNC Greensboro, UNC Pembroke, Western Carolina University and Winston-Salem State University are capped at 25%.

  • NC A&T State University and NC Central University are capped at 35%.

  • Elizabeth City State University is capped at 50%.

The policy requires a university’s state operating budget to be reduced if it exceeds its out-of-state cap for two academic years in a row. This year marked UNCW’s second-straight year of exceeding its cap, after receiving a warning last year.

The fine is assessed based on the number of students by which the university exceeds its allowable percentage. Based on last fall’s enrollment, UNCW was expected to enroll a maximum of 426 out-of-state students this year. But it enrolled 630 out-of-state students — 204 more than the cap allowed — accounting for 27% of all of the university’s first-year students this fall.

Multiplying the number of excess students, 204, by the out-of-state tuition rate at UNCW this academic year, $20,111, the total fine comes out to $4.1 million. Those funds will be directed to “the North Carolina Need-Based Scholarship for Public Colleges and Universities for the benefit of UNC System students,” according to a UNC System document presented to the Board of Governors last week.

UNC-Chapel Hill, which exceeded its out-of-state enrollment cap by 166 students, did not exceed the cap last year and thus only received a warning this year. If the university exceeds its limit again next year, it will be fined.

Board member Kirk Bradley said during a committee meeting Wednesday that he expects the board “to continue to review” the system’s policy on out-of-state enrollment.

“Our first goal is to make sure every North Carolina citizen that wants to come to one of our institutions can can do so,” Bradley said. “But we also realize that universities, by their nature, are high fixed-cost enterprises.”

At the full board meeting Thursday, the action against UNCW was originally on the consent agenda, but board member Joel Ford asked for it to be removed for discussion.

“I think that this policy needs to be revisited and I would appreciate any thoughtful consideration going forward,” Ford said.

Board member Woody White, who previously served on the UNCW Board of Trustees, said he would vote in favor of the action, noting that it was being taken in accordance with existing policy. But he said he saw the fine against UNCW as a “springboard” and hoped the board “will undergo a very thorough and comprehensive evaluation of this policy.”

Board of Governors Chair Randy Ramsey, who noted that the board has taken “appropriate” steps to increase the caps for the system’s historically Black universities in recent years, said he expects the board to have “a very spirited discussion about this policy” going forward.

After discussion, the board passed the action.

A statue of the Seahawk mascot at UNC Wilmington is pictured here on Friday, July 24, 2020.
A statue of the Seahawk mascot at UNC Wilmington is pictured here on Friday, July 24, 2020. Julia Wall

UNCG research to study high schoolers’ college credits

The Early College Research Center at UNC Greensboro received a $1.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to study how well college-level credits earned by North Carolina high school students transfer.

The project will examine college credits students earn through both dual-enrollment courses, in which high school students take courses through community colleges, and Advanced Placement course exams.

“More and more students are given the opportunity to earn college credits in high school,” principal investigator and Early College Research Center director Julie Edmunds said in an announcement. “However, the advantages of these courses depend on the extent to which the credits successfully transfer and can be applied to students’ postsecondary degree plans. Our study hopes to describe how well the credit transfer process is working and identify areas for improvement, thereby maximizing the benefits for students.”

The project will look at the association between successful transfer of the course credits and these outcomes: enrolling in upper-level courses, enrolling in multiple majors/minors, attaining a post-secondary degree, time to degree and amount of student loan debt.

The study is expected to conclude in 2027.

Davidson-Davie Community College names new president

Jenny Varner will be the fifth president of Davidson-Davie Community College, following approval by the college’s Board of Trustees and the State Board of Community Colleges last week.

Varner had been serving as acting president since July, following the death of previous president Darrin Hartness. She previously served as the college’s vice president for external affairs and executive director of its foundation.

“Jenny Varner brings a unique set of qualifications that will carry the college into the future,” Board of Trustees Chair William Steed said in an announcement. “She has been a steadfast advocate for the school for the past 15 years, and has already been instrumental in helping guide the college through growth and change. She is deeply rooted in not only the fabric of the school but of our communities, and we look forward to furthering the mission of Davidson-Davie under her leadership.”

Varner, a Davidson County native, holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in public policy from Duke University. She has also worked for former U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole and for the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators.

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That’s all for this week’s roundup of North Carolina higher education news. I hope you’ll stay tuned for more in the weeks to come.

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Korie Dean covers higher education in the Triangle and North Carolina for The News & Observer. She was previously part of the paper’s service journalism team. She is a graduate of the Hussman School of Journalism and Media at UNC-Chapel Hill and a lifelong North Carolinian.

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