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UNC System Will Let HBCUs Enroll More Out-of-State Students

Courtesy of Elizabeth City State University

North Carolina's five public historically Black universities will now be able to enroll a larger share of first-year students from out of state.

The UNC system Board of Governors voted Thursday to raise the cap on out-of-state students at its HBCUs to 25%. Since 1986, the UNC system has limited all its campuses to having no more than 18% of their incoming first-year classes from out-of-state, to reserve seats for North Carolinians.

UNC system President Peter Hans supported the change, which will mean more tuition revenue for those schools.

"We've looked very closely at how to best address historic under-investment at these universities and one of the most effective and efficient steps we can take is to amend the cap on out-of-state students," Hans said.

Chancellors from the HBCUs wrote a letter to Hans in February requesting the policy change.

Several UNC system schools have struggled to stay within the cap, and three HBCUs have exceeded it in recent years.

Elizabeth City State University and North Carolina A&T State University both saw significant enrollment growth after receiving short-term waivers on the cap. Elizabeth City is poised to benefit due to its location near the Virginia border. NCA&T grew into the largest public HBCU in the nation after engaging in a 4-year pilot program to temporarily raise its out-of-state cap. NC Central University exceeded the cap two years in a row without prior approval. Normally that triggers a hefty fine.

Hans emphasized that the Board is not considering extending the policy beyond its HBCUs, and Board Chair Randy Ramsey added he has no "appetite for doing this at any other of our campuses."

UNC Chapel Hill was fined $1 million in 2016 for exceeding the cap twice in two years. WFAE reported at the time that administrators said it was an honest error caused by inaccurate projections of how many admitted students actually accepted their admission.

NC Central faced a vote Thursday on a $1.59 million fine for exceeding the cap and enrolling just over 25% non-resident first-year students. The dollar amount was based on the number of excess out-of-state students enrolled.

The Board of Governors voted to waive that fine in light of the new policy. A handful of Board members opposed the waiver to uphold the penalty for the prior rule.

Board member J. Alex Mitchell questioned whether any in-state applicants had been displaced by out-of-state students at NC Central.

NC Central Chancellor Johnson Akinleye said no qualified North Carolinians were rejected in order to admit out-of-state students.

"That's a slight difference in Chapel Hill," Mitchell said. "As we all know, when you go over the cap at Chapel Hill, there are North Carolinians who did not get those seats."

Supporters of the new policy argue HBCUs can admit more out-of-state students without displacing qualified applicants from North Carolina, because the universities are not at full capacity and could grow.

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