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Monday numbers: UNC-Wilmington’s $4.1 million penalty

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Monday numbers: UNC-Wilmington’s $4.1 million penalty

Nov 20, 2023 | 6:00 am ET
By Joe Killian
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Monday numbers: UNC-Wilmington’s $4.1 million penalty
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(Image: UNC System)

The UNC System Board of Governors voted last week to fine UNC-Wilmington $4.1 million for exceeding its out-of-state student enrollment cap two years in a row.

The penalty is the largest since 1986, when the system implemented the cap to ensure campuses in the 16-university system would prioritize North Carolinians in enrollment.

Now the Board of Governors is considering whether the cap is reasonable.

“I think this policy needs to be revisited and would appreciate any thoughtful discussion going forward in 2024,” said UNC System Board of Governors member Joel Ford, who asked that the penalty be pulled from the agenda for further discussion.

Board member Haywood “Woody” White, a former trustee at UNC-Wilmington, echoed that sentiment, sharing his own family’s educational history and the importance of smaller regional universities to families like his.

White’s father graduated from Pamlico County High School in 1960, but came from a working-class family where there was no history of higher education. He joined the U.S. Navy, and upon his discharge worked the night shift in Kinston for five years. When he heard about the G.I Bill and realized it could be a path to college and a better future for his family, he moved them, including his 1-year-old son, Haywood, to Wilmington so he could attend the university there.

“It was evidence of upward mobility, of the benefit of programs like that and it inured in me a deep and lifelong love of UNC-Wilmington,” White said.

White ultimately voted for the penalty because, he said, a policy in place needs to be followed. But he called for reforming it.

“I think it’s safe to say everything has changed since 1986,” White said. “This policy has undergone various iterations over the years, most recently three times in the last four years as I recall.”

Last year the board raised the cap on out-of-state enrollment at all of the system’s historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), recognizing they were meeting their mission of prioritizing North Carolina students but had additional capacity and were attracting significant interest from students outside the state.

That was the right move, Board of Governors Chairman Randy Ramsey said at last week’s meeting. But more discussion of the policy is necessary as smaller regional universities continue to face enrollment struggles. In addition, demographic trends suggest there will be fewer in-state high school graduates  over the next few years.

“I think we are going to find a very spirited discussion about this policy going forward,” Ramsey said. “Because there are some who believe the policy isn’t strict enough. There are some who believe it is too strict. Like all good governance, I expect our board to come together with a series of ideas and options and I know we will come out with a better policy than we have today.”

This week, a by-the-numbers look at the out-of-state cap system, how it has changed and enrollment at UNC System schools today.

(Sources: UNC System enrollment data, including the recently released 2023 Fall Enrollment Report and UNC System enrollment dashboard.)

$4,102,644 – Total penalty UNC-Wilmington will pay for exceeding the out-of-state enrollment cap two years in a row

The number comes from multiplying the number of out-of-state students over the 18% cap (204) by the university’s annual non-resident tuition rate (approximately $20,000).

UNC-Chapel Hill also exceeded the cap this year. That campus was issued a warning as it was not its second consecutive year doing so. The school did get a $1 million penalty in 2016, the second year in which it exceeded the cap.

A chart illustrating enrollment - including out of state students exceeding the cap - at UNC-Wilmington.
(Image: UNC System)

5 – UNC System campuses still under an 18% cap for out-of-state students

Those campuses: Appalachian State University, North Carolina State University, UNC-Chapel Hill, UNC-Charlotte and UNC-Wilmington.

7 – UNC System campuses where the out-of-state cap has been raised to 25%

Those campuses: East Carolina University, UNC-Asheville, UNC-Greensboro, UNC-Pembroke, Western Carolina University, Fayetteville State University and Winston-Salem State University.

Each of those campuses is either an HBCU, a historically minority serving institution or a smaller regional university that has struggled with enrollment.

2 – UNC System campuses where the out-of-state cap has been raised to 35%

Those campuses: North Carolina A&T University and North Carolina Central University. Both of those campuses are HBCUs that have seen significant out-of-state demand.

1 – Campus where the out-of-state cap has been raised to 50%

That campus, Elizabeth City State University, is the smallest by enrollment in the UNC System. This fall semester, it enrolled 2,165 students. That’s up slightly over last year but well off its peak of about 3,000 students.

242,518 – Total UNC System enrollment for the 2023 fall semester. That’s an increase of about 3,000 students over last year.

That number represents 191,013 undergraduates and 51,505 graduate students.

10 — UNC System universities where enrollment increased over last year

6 — UNC System universities where enrollment decreased over last year

A chart illustrating Fall 2023 enrollment at all UNC System institutions.
(Image: UNC System)

38,529 – New, first-time freshmen enrolled across the system for the 2023 fall semester, a new record.

“New first-time freshman enrollment increased by 2,384 or 6.6 percent compared to fall 2022, making this incoming class the largest entering freshmen class in the UNC System’s history,” the 2023 enrollment report, released last week, reads. “Enrollment patterns increased for both new in-state freshmen and new out-of-state freshmen. Between fall 2022 and fall 2023, new in-state freshmen increased by 7.5 percent (2,213 students), alongside a 3.27 percent (217 students) increase in the enrollment of out-of-state freshmen.”

A chart showing first time enrollment at UNC System campuses.
(Image: UNC Sytem)