The College Scorecard: What does it mean for Carolina?

September 21, 2015

The White House recently released the College Scorecard online.  We’ve received a fair amount of requests for our comments about the new website, and our Vice Provost for Enrollment and Undergraduate Admissions, Stephen M. Farmer, has penned the following about it:

“We’ve worked hard at UNC-Chapel Hill to help students and their families understand what they can expect of us – not just the support we’ll provide them and the amount we’ll ask them to pay, but also the experiences they’ll have in their classes and far beyond.

“The scorecard is brand new, and we’re still exploring it.  But we welcome any tool that helps students see us and other schools more clearly, so that they can make thoughtful, informed decisions about their education.

“We hope that students won’t stop with the scorecard.  Statistics help, but so does experience.  We think students can learn important things about our community by talking or corresponding with us or by visiting when they can.  Getting to know people can make the data in the scorecard come alive.

“We support this effort to help students and their families see us more clearly, just as we appreciate the changes in the FAFSA that will make it easier for students to apply for aid earlier.  We are on the side of students, and we want to help them get to where they need to be, even if their paths lead them away from Chapel Hill.

“For this reason, we’re glad to be the headquarters for the Carolina College Advising Corps, a public service of the University that places recent Carolina graduates as college and financial-aid advisers in high schools statewide.  Through this program, this year we’re serving 53,000 student at 64 high schools – not necessarily to recruit them to UNC-Chapel Hill, but to help them complete admissions and financial-aid applications and enroll at schools that will serve them well.”

Why is College Access and Affordability So Important?

September 14, 2015

The economics of higher education are strange and arcane, but Adam Davidson does yeoman’s work untangling the mess in this past weekend’s New York Times Magazine. He explains how different colleges and universities try to balance tuition, financial aid, and broader institutional goals.

College occupies an odd niche in our economy, existing as both a public good and a private investment. That’s especially true at competitive public universities like Carolina, where the cost of an education is heavily subsidized by state taxpayers, but tuition can still be a challenge for many families.

“If colleges and universities were just another consumer good, like cars or clothes, we wouldn’t worry so much about their cost,” Davidson writes. “But higher education is both an individual and a public concern.”

At Carolina, we take that public concern seriously. As state and federal investments in higher education have stalled, shifting more of the burden to individual families, UNC has made a very conscious effort to maintain access for all qualified students, regardless of income level.

In blunt terms, that has meant both limiting tuition increases and making sure the shift toward individual investment affects those families most able to bear the cost. Like many of the country’s top-tier private universities, we spend an enormous amount of our own funds on financial aid, effectively discounting the individual cost for low- and middle-income families so that Carolina remains affordable for students at all income levels.

The success of that policy is reflected in the economic diversity of our student body and the consistently low debt burden for our graduates. Even as the Great Recession created a sharp increase in economic hardship — 37 percent of UNC students had financial need in 2009; 43 percent do today — student borrowing has remained flat. Only 40 percent of UNC undergraduates take out loans, compared with 70 percent nationally, and the average debt at graduation is just over $18K, compared with more than $28K nationally.

And that’s with a student body that is among the most economically diverse of major research universities. Almost 20 percent of undergraduates are the first in their families to attend college, and 22 percent are eligible for federal Pell Grants. Those numbers, along with some of the highest graduation rates in the country, led the New York Times to name Carolina the third most economically diverse top college in the nation, and the first among public universities.

That kind of commitment is expensive. Carolina spends tens of millions annually on grants and scholarships for needy students, money that could have been spent on other programs or projects. We choose to make affordability a priority, both because we care about the public mission of the place and because it’s an investment in quality.

As Davidson points out, top-tier private schools like Harvard and Williams and Stanford have aid policies similar to UNC’s not solely out of a sense of fairness or public good, but because it brings in the best talent. “If an elite school… insisted on admitting only students willing to pay the full freight, they would soon find they weren’t so elite,” he writes.

Accomplished students are drawn “by the prospect of studying with the best students and teachers.” Need-blind admissions — assessing applicants only on talent and accomplishment, not on their ability to pay — enhances the quality of the student body, and therefore the quality of the whole university.

“Most of the top-tier private schools say they won’t factor in an applicant’s ability to pay when considering admission and promise that everyone admitted will be given the financial aid necessary to attend,” Davidson points out. UNC is the rare public institution able to make a similar promise, and that’s a huge part of what keeps us among the best universities in the country.

Financial aid is not only a public trust at Carolina; it’s also a competitive advantage.


Eric Johnson

Assistant Director for Policy Analysis & Communications
Scholarships and Student Aid at UNC Chapel Hill


A Letter Regarding English 72: The ‘Literature of 9/11’ First-Year Seminar

September 11, 2015

Today, we remember 9/11 across the University.  It is a solemn day that has affected the canvas of our nation in many ways.  Recently, as many know, a first-year seminar course entitled Literature of 9/11 came under scrutiny.  Provost Jim Dean penned an email to concerned people who wrote to the University.  It provides some facts that we gathered over the past week that we’d like to share more widely.


Thank you for sharing your concerns about our First-Year Seminar, English 72: “The Literature of 9/11.” Chancellor Folt was also troubled when she first learned what was being reported about this class. She immediately asked me to investigate and gather the facts.

Here is some of what we’ve learned:

  • The original Internet article was a blog post written by a new first-year UNC-Chapel Hill student who has publicly acknowledged that he isn’t enrolled in the seminar and didn’t read the books on the course list. We respect his right to express his opinions. However, the article was misleading and inaccurate.
  • This first-year seminar is not required and has been offered every year since 2010. New students choose to take this popular course. Twenty-five students registered for this fall’s seminar – one more than the normal limit – from a total first-year class of about 4,000 students.
  • The readings cover a broad range of materials providing different opinions including the perspectives of residents of New York City, members of the U.S. military and their families, survivors of the attacks, non-partisan terrorism researchers, and excerpts from the non-partisan 9/11 Commission Report. The full list includes national and international prize-winning books and best-sellers, as well as a book made into a movie. I encourage you to visit for a full description of the seminar and materials.
  • Students who have taken the course say it does not attempt to indoctrinate them. For example, one student posted this online comment: “the entire course was in the style of ‘this is what this certain people believe/ how they responded’ and not ‘this is what you ought to believe.’ In no way did I come out of the class feeling pushed to believe the US was imperialistic, nor feeling in any way sympathetic toward terrorism.
  • Other students and alumni have raised their own concerns about the accuracy of the original article. This comment is representative: “As someone who took this class at UNC, I strongly disagree with this article. The class would be more aptly named, “The Cultural Impact of 9/11,” and considering the class as I took it in 2011, much of this article is untrue.” 
  • The faculty member is in the Department of English and Comparative Literature and has taught this same seminar five previous times. He is highly rated by his students in end-of-semester course evaluations. More specifically, they cite how he treats all students with respect and effectively encourages them to participate in class.

Chancellor Folt and I share your horror over the tragic events of 9/11. The Carolina community lost several members on that day, and our campus came together to honor them by creating a memorial garden to permanently celebrate their lives. On a personal level, I recently visited the 9/11 Shrine and Chapel in the Pentagon, and was moved to tears thinking about the innocent civilians and military men and women who lost their lives there that day.

Over the past several years, the University has significantly strengthened support for the military. We currently enroll the largest number of veterans since post World War II and have many active duty and retired military members involved in our campus programs. Faculty teach more than 60 courses exploring military history, and our ROTC program is strong and well respected. We recently launched the UNC Core program to provide an online option for service members at in-state tuition rates. They can take general education requirements online and transfer the credits to any UNC system university. The Kenan-Flagler Business School teaches executive development programs for senior leaders from all military services to accelerate transitions to new executive leadership roles. Those are just a few highlights from a rapidly growing list of programs and initiatives now focusing intensely on supporting members of the military. We’re very proud of the progress we’ve made on this front, and are encouraged about future opportunities to do even more.

Thank you again for sharing your concerns. I hope you find this information reassuring.


James W. Dean, Jr.

Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost


Letter to the Editor of The Daily Tar Heel

September 4, 2015

On September 3, The Daily Tar Heel wrote an editorial regarding the state of North Carolina’s One State, One Rate policy.  Chancellor Carol L. Folt provided a statement at the request of the editorial staff the day prior to its publication, but it was not included.  Joel Curran, vice chancellor of communications and public affairs, wrote this letter in response; it was published Sept. 4, 2015:

TO THE EDITOR: I was surprised to read your editorial “All students deserve aid,” regarding the state of North Carolina’s One State, One Rate policy.

In it, you point to Chancellor Folt’s silence on the issue. But she has been far from silent. Her thoughts on the issue were shared with you early Wednesday afternoon, well ahead of your paper’s deadline. And the editorial board is well aware Chancellor Folt addressed the same issue last month during a speech delivered at the National Press Club. It’s archived on C-SPAN’s web site.

The DTH Editorial Board has apparently chosen to ignore the Chancellor’s voice, the same way it has chosen not to meet with Chancellor Folt since July when I requested an opportunity for her to meet with the board during the first week of school. Editorial Board Editor Sam Schafer replied, “…it would probably be better for the new board to have time to get used to our work process and get a little experience before we meet with the Chancellor. It usually takes a little time to get a new editorial board in the swing of things.”

Seems like the editorial board is already swinging, and in this case, missing.

Since your first edition rolled off your presses on August 14, you have published at least four editorials that would have benefited from Chancellor Carol Folt’s position, but no request was made. Her invitation still stands, but the DTH’s silence is, well, deafening.

Chancellor Folt’s response: “Nothing is more important to me than providing access to a great education that is affordable for our students. I speak about this often and quite strongly. My entire administration is working hard to identify financial support for these efforts, particularly those focused on first generation students, students from low income families and students entering from non-traditional backgrounds, like community colleges. Not only have I spoken at the White House on this issue several times and increased financial support for initiatives like the Carolina Covenant and Carolina Advising Corps, I recently spent an hour with the National Press Club speaking about this issue.

As the chancellor of a public university, I am bound by current state and federal law, and North Carolina is not one of the states that forgives out-of-state tuition for undocumented students. For these students, we must use funds that we raise via philanthropy to help academically qualified students cover out-of-state rates, and we are working every day to increase these funds.

Some states have adopted a different approach to charging tuition for undocumented students in the last couple of years. Our State now makes it possible for all active duty military personnel to have in-state rates, and that too is another undeserved population that I strongly support. This is a positive step in the right direction.”

Joel Curran

Vice Chancellor of Communications and Public Affairs

Providing context

September 3, 2015

Today, we introduce a new avenue to provide University information to the Carolina community and beyond.  “UNC-Chapel Hill On The Record” allows us to provide context about issues and stories involving the University, and we expect to provide responses to articles, additional clarifying information and outreach on important topics.  Most importantly, it provides an opportunity to explain our unique perspective, and we hope that it will inform your discussions about Carolina.