Out-of-State Cap Serves a Purpose
I t has been a quarter-century since the University of North Carolina system set a limit of 18 percent on out-of-state enrollment. On balance, it needs stay where it is.
Granted, the perspective on this issue is no doubt quite different when viewed from Chapel Hill, as opposed to a more remote (and, we prefer to believe, objective) vantage point such as Moore County. All things considered, though, the arguments for maintaining the current system would appear to outweigh those for tampering with it in any significant way.
From time to time, most recent chancellors of UNC-Chapel Hill have argued in favor of raising the permissible ceiling on the percentage of students from other states. Debate on the issue has again gone public in recent days.
Both Sides Make a Case
The main argument in favor of the change is that increasing the mix of out-of-state students increases intellectual diversity on campus and thereby provides a more stimulating atmosphere for homegrown students. It also may raise the quality of certain classes, since admission standards are higher for applicants from elsewhere.
Then there is the financial factor. The Chapel Hill flagship campus is able to charge out-of-staters $28,250 apiece in tuition and fees, as opposed to about $7,500 for North Carolina students. This increase in income is not to be sneezed at in a time like this, when state budgets are in tatters and programs are being severely cut across the board.
Some Chapel Hill administrators and trustees make the argument that being able to pick and choose among greater numbers of applicants from other states - skimming the cream off the top, in other words - would increase the university's prestige in the eyes of the nation and world.
Leave Well Enough Alone
All that may be so. But there are troublingly dark sides to this otherwise glowing picture.
For one thing, opponents of the change argue that every slot filled by a student from New Jersey or California is one less available to North Carolinians. Though UNC President Tom Ross reasons that such bumpings could be avoided by simply increasing the number of slots available, that might not always be true in a time of such statewide economic belt-tightening.
Some proponents, mostly in Chapel Hill, argue that the 18 percent limit could perhaps be applied to the systemwide enrollment totals as a whole, thus allowing some campuses (guess which ones?) to exceed the cap while others come up short. But that hardly seems fair. Once such favoritism became possible, where would the line be drawn?
To us, the most persuasive argument raised by those against the change goes like this: North Carolina's wonderful university system is not there primarily to make life more fulfilling for select students or instructors. It exists to serve the interests of all North Carolinians - who, after all, are primarily the ones paying most of the bills.
The more the system reduces the quality of the educational opportunities available to the widest possible spectrum of North Carolinians - instead showing greater favoritism to elite nonresidents, no matter how promising they may be - the less true it is being to its founding purpose.
Stick with the 18 percent, we say. It's a good compromise.
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