CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) -- Undergraduate students enrolled at North Carolina's 16 public universities a year from now can expect a reprieve from a decade of steady tuition increases, system president Tom Ross said Thursday.
The president of the statewide University of North Carolina system said he will recommend no tuition increases for undergraduate state residents heading into the 2014-15 academic year. In-state students paid an average of 9 percent more in tuition in the academic year that ended in May. Tuition increased by an average 4 percent for the school year beginning this month.
In-state students are paying 90 percent more in tuition and fees than a decade ago.
"I think it's time for us to step back and not increase tuition," Ross told members of the university system's Board of Governors.
He said he has had lengthy discussions about the changes with campus chancellors.
The tuition freeze won't be finalized until February, but the idea was received well by some members of the university system's board.
"It's the right time to hit the pause button and I think it's really important that we get this out early so that the campuses can spend the next six months planning," said board member Hannah Gage, of Wilmington.
Ross spoke two weeks after the General Assembly passed a two-year state budget that allocated the University of North Carolina system $126.5 million less than what was projected as needed to maintain last year's operating levels plus inflation. Most of the cuts that will be required as a result will be determined by UNC's administrative offices and campus leaders. The cuts are on top of budget reductions of about $400 million approved two years ago.
The UNC system receives about $2.6 billion of its roughly $9 billion budget directly from the state.
The universities need time to absorb the new cuts and adjust to a clear message from lawmakers to improve operating efficiency, Ross said.
"We need to prove that we can do the cut part of this, the efficiency side of this, and then we need to continue to make our case" for state funding in the future, he said.
The state Legislature ordered tuition increases of 12 percent next year for out-of-state students attending campuses in Chapel Hill, Wilmington, Greensboro, and Winston-Salem. Out-of-state tuition will rise 6 percent at other campuses.
Tuition and fees vary dramatically by campus and, because of taxpayer support, are much lower for in-state students. That's largely due to a provision in the state constitution that requires higher-education costs to be low or free "as far as practicable." The average undergraduate tuition and fees for North Carolina residents has increased in the past decade from $3,290 to $6,100 in the coming academic year.
Tuition and fees at the state's public universities were the country's 10th lowest in 2012-13, and well below the national average of $8,655 in 2012-13, according to the College Board.
"I think we are a very affordable system compared to the rest of the country. That doesn't mean we're affordable for everyone, but it does mean comparatively we're affordable," Ross said.
Emery Dalesio can be reached at http://twitter.com/emerydalesio.