News & Events

WNC Higher Ed Leaders Host State Legislators

Presidents of Western North Carolina's four independent, nonprofit colleges and universities met Friday with members of the WNC state legislative delegation to discuss issues facing private higher education. Mars Hill University hosted the lunch meeting at its Asheville Center for Adult and Graduate Studies on Airport Road.

Mars Hill President Dan Lunsford was joined by Brevard College President David Joyce, Montreat College President Paul Maurer, Warren Wilson College President Steven Solnick for the event, which included Rep. Susan Fisher, Rep. Chuck McGrady, Rep. Michele Presnell, Rep. Joe Sam Queen, and Rep. Brian Turner. Hope Williams, president of North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities (NCICU), an organization which represents North Carolina's 36 independent, nonprofit institutions of higher education, also participated, as did April Riddle, western regional director for Gov. Pat McCrory.

Discussion focused on the value of private higher education, the economic impact the four WNC institutions have on the region, the challenges of providing need-based financial aid, and the impact of pending or proposed tax law changes in North Carolina.

Warren Wilson's Solnick described higher education as being "in the crosshairs" of national political debate and discussed trends behind the rhetoric. What private institutions "specialize in is highly personalized education," Solnick said, an option which may not be available in just a few years, if some proposals for addressing college costs play out to their conclusions. He thanked the legislators for lawmakers' continued support of grants that North Carolina students may use at both public and private institutions.

David Joyce of Brevard College echoed that thanks, illustrated with his own story of being a student at private Pfeiffer College (now Pfeiffer University) in the 1970s and benefiting from the North Carolina Legislative Tuition Grant, which the General Assembly approved in 1975. He said the type of mentoring and other support he received at his small college 40 years ago is the same type of support today's students need and get at the four WNC institutions and other across the state.

Mars Hill University President Lunsford touched on the impact of private higher education on the region's economy. Based on data from a comprehensive study conducted by Economic Modeling Specialists International on behalf of North Carolina's independent higher education sector, public university system, and community college system, spending by students and their families from Brevard, Mars Hill, Montreat, and Warren Wilson totaled more than $7.4 million annually. Additionally, the institutions employ Western North Carolina residents, hire and purchase materials for construction projects, and introduce to the region students who live and work here following their graduation from one of these four schools.

Montreat's Maurer and NCICU's Williams touched on specific financial and other concerns related to the impact of the General Assembly on the state's private higher education institutions. They addressed such issues as proposed changes to sales tax and property tax laws which could negatively affect the schools' financial situations. And they, along with Lunsford, addressed the fact that, even though popular rhetoric might lead to an assumption that college debt is a runaway problem for students, the average student debt from the North Carolina private colleges and universities is about $25,000, below the national average, and roughly the same amount as the cost of a modest new car.