UNC Board of Governors Chairman Brad Wilson has rightly urged his fellow board members to vote against raising tuition at the state’s 16 public universities for 2005-06.

Many of the 16 are expected to ask for such increases; in fact, UNC-Asheville essentially already has. Its board of trustees last week voted unanimously to raise tuition for the next two academic years, 36 percent of which would go to students on need-based financial aid.

Still, the Board of Governors should take Wilson’s lead when it meets next month and say no to tuition hikes systemwide.

In the last five years, students on UNC campuses have seen tuition and fees climb, and climb more.

The most recent increases raised in-state tuition by 8.5 percent at UNC-CH, 14.5 percent at N.C. A&T and 17 percent at the N.C. School of the Arts, despite strong protests from students.

Given that context, and a still-struggling state economy, it would be unfair for students to bear even more of the burden for university needs.

So it’s encouraging to see Wilson state support for UNC’s history of affordable access to higher education for N.C. students. And to hear him say it’s time the system takes a break from higher education’s “financial arms race.”

No doubt many, if not all, of 16 UNC schools can make solid cases for increased funds. For instance, faculty salaries remain a chief concern. In 2004-05, system faculty received their first raises since 2001, but their salaries still lag behind those of faculty at comparable universities nationwide.

However, borrowing Wilson’s metaphor, N.C. students should get a rest from the front lines of UNC’s battle to maintain quality and competitiveness. Wilson has suggested a 2005-06 tuition freeze for in-state students only.

So tuition increases for out-of-state students still would be an option. His suggestion that the General Assembly appropriate funds to each campus equal to the amount the tuition increases generated last year is likely a hard sell. But it is worth debating.

UNC President Molly Broad has emphasized higher enrollment on state campuses as critical to North Carolina’s future.

One way to ensure that growth is to uphold the state’s promise of affordable tuition for its citizens.

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