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These North Carolina HBCUs welcome more out-of-state students as good news

Courtesy of North Carolina A&T State University

Next year, three universities in the UNC System can admit a larger share of out-of-state students, which could bring higher enrollment and revenue, plus more students with strong academic records.

The UNC System Board of Governors has voted to raise the cap on out-of-state students for the second year in a row at three of its historically black colleges and universities – North Carolina A&T State University, North Carolina Central University and Elizabeth City State University.

“We’re really, really excited,” said Dawn Nail, Interim Associate Vice Provost for Enrollment Management at NC A&T.

“It’s going to give us the opportunity to give some of those students out of North Carolina the opportunity to get to come to North Carolina A&T and get a quality education and have that A&T experience,” Nail said.

As an alumna of NC A&T herself, Nail said she’s eager to admit more students who do not have the opportunity to attend an HBCU in their own state or region. She assured those applicants will not take the place of eligible North Carolina residents who want to attend NC A&T.

In the past year, Nail said out-of-state applicants seeking admission to NC A&T for Fall 2022 rose about 30 percent while in-state applicants dropped by about 1.5 percent.

Nail is not sure why in-state applicants have fallen, but with a higher cap, the number of in-state applicants will no longer limit how many highly qualified out-of-state applicants can be admitted.

“Some [out-of-state] students, they have some really, really impressive academic profiles,” Nail said. “And of course, that's what we want.”

History of the cap

Beginning in 1986, UNC System universities – except for the North Carolina School of the Arts – have been required to have an incoming undergraduate freshman class in which no more than 18 percent of students are from out-of-state. The policy ensures the public universities primarily benefit North Carolina residents.

The universities have a financial incentive to admit more out-of-state students. Some, including UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State University, charge out-of-state students tuition rates that are more than triple the cost of tuition for North Carolina residents.

At NC A&T, out-of-state students paid about $13,500 more in tuition than in-state students for the 2020-21 academic year.

“I think in terms of a financial windfall, [raising the cap] is not going to be as significant an impact as some may think,” Nail said.

The policy will allow universities to grow their enrollment without risking fines for exceeding the cap. UNC paid a fine of $1 million to the UNC System in 2016 for exceeding its cap twice in two years.

NC A&T grew to be the largest public HBCU in the nation after engaging in a four-year pilot program to temporarily raise its out-of-state cap, and NC Central exceeded its cap twice in recent years. The UNC System Board of Governors waived NC Central's impending penalty in 2021.

Last year, the board of governors raised the cap to 25 percent only for its five HBCUs. The board described it as an equity measure for these historically under-funded institutions.

Nail said she is “absolutely grateful” to the system for raising the cap, but that it won’t level the playing field with predominantly white institutions (or PWIs) that have historically received more state funding.

“Is it going to be a leg up in terms of the offerings and equity, I should say, with HBCUs and PWIs?” Nail said. “Not quite yet.”

Cap on out-of-state students will now vary across the UNC System

Following the board of governors vote this week on the policy change, the cap on out-of-state students now varies for schools across the UNC System.

UNC System Board of Governors April 7 meeting materials

Elizabeth City State University will be able to admit up to half its students from out-of-state, and will benefit from its proximity to the Virginia border. Chancellor Karrie Dixon says, under the new policy, the university will be able to enroll about 100 more students, all from among out-of-state applicants.

ECSU is part of the NC Promise Program, which sets tuition at $500 per semester for in-state students and $2,500 for out-of-state students through support from state funding.

According to UNC System CFO Jennifer Haygood, the new cap means the state will pay an additional $638,400 to support tuition for the out-of-state students at ECSU, which is already accounted for in expansion funds for NC Promise in the state budget.

“We have the capacity to accept more students, and I thank the Board of Governors for lifting the out-of-state enrollment cap, which is important for our continued growth,” Dixon said in a written statement.

Dixon added that all eligible incoming students from North Carolina “will continue to be the top priority” for admission to ECSU.

Liz Schlemmer is WUNC's Education Reporter, covering preschool through higher education. Email:
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