UNC System enrollment has reached an all-time record high with a 0.9% increase due to more affordable tuition and programs, according to Andrew Kelly, senior vice president for strategy and policy for the UNC System.
This academic year, UNC Pembroke saw the largest increase of 7.9%, and UNC Wilmington and Western Carolina saw a 4.5% increase in enrollment, Kelly said.
The growing economy of North Carolina has contributed to a rise in demand for post-secondary education, which Kelly said has been a factor in increased enrollment.
“It’s reflective of the fact that you have a growing state and a growing economy,” Kelly said. “In sectors that increasingly require some form of postsecondary education and oftentimes a bachelor’s degree or above, there's a lot more people and greater demand for higher levels of education.”
NC Promise, a program that caps tuition at $500 per semester for all students, has greatly contributed to the enrollment increases. Within the UNC System, NC Promise has reduced tuition at Elizabeth State University, UNC at Pembroke and Western Carolina University. The program started at these schools in fall 2018, according to Kelly.
While NC State does not use NC Promise, it does have Pack Promise. Pack Promise is financial aid program that aims to minimize tuition and debt for students who receive no financial help from their families. The program works to meet 100% of a student's needs for eight semesters or until they complete their degree, according to Krista Ringler, associate vice provost and director of scholarships and financial aid.
Pack Promise has the goal of assisting 200 people a year and was able to provide services for 198 students this year, Ringler said.
In addition to an increase in enrollment of first-years since 2013, the transfer enrollment from two-year to four-year colleges has been on the rise since 2009, according to a UNC system data dashboard.
Kelly said this increase can possibly be attributed to the partnership that North Carolina community colleges have with four-year institutions via the Comprehensive Articulation Agreement. The agreement allows students who complete an associate’s degree at public state community colleges can enroll in a four-year institution with junior standing and receive transfer credit for their classes.
Kelly said it is not certain if the numbers will continue to increase. However, as the population of people ages 18-24 decreases at the national level, it is possible college enrollment in North Carolina could decrease again in the future.
It is still unclear how this increase in UNC System enrollment will affect North Carolina overall, but Kelly said universities are concerned about it.
“I think that’s on everybody’s radar screen,” Kelly said. “I think we will see continued growth in the future, but longer-term timeline, it’s something to pay attention to.”
Statistics for NC State-specific demographics are on the Office of Institutional Research and Planning website.