The cap on out-of-state student enrollment at North Carolina universities could be increasing – but only for HBCUs

This story originally aired on April 24, 2021, on WRAL.

Broadcast by Jackson Lanier

Print story by Anne Tate

Graphics by Eleanor Burcham

Jaydn James always considered attending a historically Black college or university – she dreamed of continuing the legacy of her parents and grandparents, who also attended HBCUs. 

James attended Trident Technical College in her hometown of Charleston, South Carolina, for two years, and she planned to transfer to the University of South Carolina because it was close to home – but that was before she visited North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. She fell in love with the campus, was drawn to its reputation as a top-ranked HBCU and liked that it was out-of-state. 

“I loved the community,” James said. “It reminded me of family – a big family I get to be around 24/7.” 

As an out-of-state applicant, James was one of the lucky ones. Only 18% of enrolled freshmen at UNC System schools can be from out of state. 

North Carolina is home to five UNC System HBCUs: Elizabeth City State University, Fayetteville State University, Winston-Salem State University, North Carolina Central University and NCAT. Students come from all around the country to attend these schools, but enrollment is limited. The schools have asked to open admission to more students outside of the state to allow continued growth and provide stability to their institutions. 

MAP of UNC System HBCUs

A push for change

In February, all five HBCU chancellors signed a letter to UNC System President Peter Hans, requesting that the student cap on non-resident freshmen students be increased from 18% to 25%. 

“This action has the potential to strengthen the future of the UNC System’s HBCUs, recruit new talent without forestalling any NC resident student access, and would greatly enhance the experience of all students at our universities,” the letter said. 

Hans presented the letter and potential policy change at a February UNC Board of Governors committee meeting. He recommended that the BOG vote to accept the amendment and permanently change the policy, in addition to dismissing the penalties assessed to any HBCU that exceeded the cap prior to fall 2020. 

“We’ve looked very closely at how best to correct for historic underinvestment in these universities, and one of the most effective and efficient steps we can take is to amend the cap on out-of-state students to allow our HBCUs — and only our HBCUs — to welcome more students from across the country,” Hans said. 

Board member Marty Kotis objects to the policy change. He doesn’t think the cap should be increased at any UNC System schools. He wants to reserve as many spots for North Carolinians as possible because he believes the University System was created for North Carolinians. 

“There’s always this focus on more money, not necessarily educating the people of the state,” Kotis said. “I think we really need to take a holistic approach and say, ‘how do we improve the lives of North Carolinians with this University System,’ which I believe was the original intent.” 

On April 22, the full Board will vote on whether to increase the admissions cap on out-of-state students – only at the five HBCUs, excluding 11 non-HBCU UNC System universities – amending section 700.1.3 of the UNC Policy Manual. UNC School of the Arts is exempt from the cap due to its art concentration. 

“We would like to become a national magnet for students who are interested in attending an HBCU,” Hans said. “And those students have come from all kinds of places and from all walks of life and from all different races and ethnicities. And so opening the possibility for more out-of-state students to come to our HBCUs I think is a win-win for everyone.” 

The 82/18 Rule

The 82/18 rule, mandating that no more than 18% of incoming first-year students at UNC System Schools are out-of-state, ensuring room for 82% in-state enrollment, was created in 1986. No changes to the policy have been made since. 

“The intent was to ensure that there were enough seats for qualified North Carolina students in the public universities,” Kimberly van Noort, senior vice president for academic affairs and chief academic officer of the UNC System, said. “The public universities in North Carolina are very generously supported by the state and by taxpayer dollars and the intent was to prevent displacing qualified North Carolina students in favor of out-of-state students who might be paying higher tuition.” 

NCAT, ECSU and NCCU have exceeded the cap each of the past two years, indicating the interest of non-resident students to attend North Carolina’s HBCUs. 

Schools beyond the five HBCUs could push for an increase, too. There are groups at UNC System schools tasked with examining short- and long-term enrollment growth goals at their respective universities, like the Undergraduate Student Enrollment Working Group at UNC-Chapel Hill. According to UNC Media Relations Manager Pace Sagester, the group is considering various enrollment scenarios to present to Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz. No recommendations have been finalized. 

How the increase could affect North Carolina’s HBCUs

The HBCU chancellors’ letter argued that increasing the out-of-state enrollment cap would expand opportunities for HBCUs to recruit students from across the country, diversifying their student bodies and providing increased opportunity for non-residents to attend an HBCU.  

The letter outlined specific reasons why increasing the cap would positively impact North Carolina’s HBCUs. The chancellors’ reasoning included “sustainable enrollment growth, increased financial stability, improved academic profiles of enrolled students, improved student performance in retention and graduation rates, enhanced success on licensure exams and preparation for the workforce, and strengthened competitiveness of academic programs.”

Now, more than ever, there are more opportunities for students in the HBCU’s traditional recruiting pools to attend other universities, van Noort said. The ability to recruit more non-resident students would help strengthen North Carolina’s HBCUs as their historic recruitment pool shifts. 

“In order to ensure the competitiveness of those HBCUs in their market, there really is a need to allow them to expand their recruitment pool,” van Noort said. 

According to van Noort, there’s no fixed overall enrollment cap at any of the HBCUs, so there will be no reduction in opportunities for in-state admission.

“There will be no limit on in-state students or, to put it another way, there will be no decrease in the number of spots available for North Carolina residents but rather there will be as many as are needed for qualified in-state students,” she said. “The cost of instruction of additional in-state students is covered by a combination of the tuition they pay and state appropriations.” 

The enrollment numbers at Fayetteville State have steadily increased during the past few years, said Thalia Wilson, the assistant vice chancellor for enrollment management at Fayetteville State. Wilson said that most in-state students come from Cumberland County and many out-of-state students come from the DC-Maryland-Virginia area. 

Although Fayetteville State typically doesn’t approach the 18% cap, increasing it would allow for continued growth and increased diversity in the future. 

“It won’t really impact us here at Fayetteville State all that much, but we still support it for our sister institutions,” Wilson said. “Being able to diversify your student body can really strengthen a university.” 

NCAT and ECSU have been granted non-resident student flexibility in the past. This led to sustainable enrollment growth, improved academic profiles of enrolled students, improved student performance in retention and graduation rates, enhanced success on licensure exams and preparation for the workforce, strengthened competitiveness of academic programs, and a greater contribution to the economic impact of the state of North Carolina, Ayana Hernandez, associate vice chancellor of the office of communications and marketing at NCCU, said, and the letter from the HBCU chancellors affirmed. 

If the amendment passes, NCCU expects to experience similar benefits, Hernandez said. 

James, now a junior majoring in journalism and mass communication at NCAT, didn’t know about the 82/18 rule during her application process. Although the 82/18 rule doesn’t apply to transfer students, she thinks the cap on out-of-state students should be increased. 

“I think if they want to go to HBCUs in North Carolina they should be able to,” James said. “I think it will give more students who are out-of-state more opportunity to go to the HBCU of their choice, if it is in North Carolina.” 

She thinks it’s important to support Black colleges and for people to learn more about HBCUs and how they support people of color. 

“It’s a great experience for Black people,” she said. “It brings so much joy and makes you feel like you’re at home. It’s a beautiful experience.”

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