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UNC-Chapel Hill chancellor defends new financial aid before Board of Governors

UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz speaks before the UNC System Board of Governors about the university's recent financial aid announcement, July 19, 2023.
Liz Schlemmer
UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz speaks before the UNC System Board of Governors about the university's recent financial aid announcement, July 19, 2023.

UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz shared more details today about a recent announcementthat the university will provide financial aid to cover tuition and fees for in-state students whose families make less than $80,000.

In the past, Carolina has typically covered tuition and fees for about 3,600 students who meet that criteria through various forms of financial aid. Guskiewicz told the UNC System Board of Governors that an estimated 200 in-state students whose financial aid package would not have fully covered tuition and required fees in the past are expected to meet that income threshold.

He said that “remaining last dollar” these students once paid will now come from philanthropy funds raised by donors and alums through the university’s capital campaign. The change is expected to cost an estimated $500,000 to $600,000 a year from private gifts.

Guskiewicz emphasized that the university is not waiving tuition for any students.

“No state dollars or tuition dollars will be used for this effort to cover these additional 200 students,” Guskiewicz said. “We hope this message will help remove doubt and uncertainty about whether Carolina is affordable to those students who want to be at Carolina and who earn their path to Carolina.”

Some members of the Board of Governors questioned why the university made the announcement shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned affirmative action in admissions in a case involving UNC-Chapel Hill.

"I think the freedom to be perceived that it was done in reaction to the Supreme Court decision is just a terrible, terrible communication error on your part,” said Board chairman Randy Ramsey.

“Not making any of one of the Board of Governors, including myself aware of it — I understand most of the [university] Board of Trustees not aware of it — and us learning about this in the newspaper, that's just not appropriate,” Ramsey added.

“The communication could have and should have been better,” Guskiewicz said earlier in the meeting. “We will absolutely acknowledge that and work on it.”

Board member Woody White questioned why Guskiewicz said in a campus-wide statement immediately after the Supreme Court ruling that he was “disappointed” by the decision prohibiting UNC-Chapel Hill’s consideration of race as a factor in admissions decisions.

“I've been a faculty member of Carolina for 28 years, and have witnessed the educational benefits of those different lived experiences and different backgrounds in our classrooms, and so that's certainly part of the disappointment,” Guskiewicz replied.

When pressed by White on the timing of the announcement, Guskiewicz added, “We had a working group that developed strategies for what we would need to do to ensure that we … be able to build a class every year that would bring those different lived experiences.”

Board member Reginald Holley praised the financial aid announcement.

“I applaud the commitment of my alma mater to provide this tuition opportunity to as many of our state citizens as may need it,” Holley said. “Because tuition should never ever be a barrier to our citizens enjoying the benefits of the constituent institutions.”

The board also discussed the outreach efforts UNC-Chapel Hill is taking on to spread the word about the new financial aid offer across the state. The university plans to embed representatives in underserved high schools in 27 counties to help recruit students and inform them of their financial aid options.

Board member C. Philip Byers asked if the university could expand that effort to more Western counties. Meanwhile, board member Kellie Hunt Blue asked whether this recruitment might affect other UNC System schools, such as those receiving state-subsidized tuition via the NC Promise program.

“I just think it creates tension amongst all the universities when you're recruiting down in certain areas,” Blue said.

“These efforts are really such that if a student earns their path to Carolina, we're fully need-blind in terms of what it would cost for them to come,” Guskiewicz responded. “That all takes place after they've been admitted. We are not looking to grow enrollment.”

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