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Folt discusses college accessibility at National Press Club

An affordable college education is part of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s DNA.

“Carolina began as a great experiment that came out of the Revolutionary War,” Chancellor Carol L. Folt told approximately 100 journalists and communications professionals at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on August 4.

“It was an idea that if we were going to have freedom, we needed to have education. We were going to provide education that would change the lives of North Carolinians at the lowest price practicable.”

For more than two centuries, UNC-Chapel Hill has remained dedicated to making that opportunity a reality, thanks to programs like the Carolina Covenant, Carolina Firsts and C-STEP (Carolina Student Transfer Excellence Program). Folt, who has consistently shared her commitment to making affordability and accessibility for students a top priority, talked about that mission during the discussion in the nation’s capital.

Folt was selected as one of the 75 guest speakers each year to talk at the National Press Club’s luncheon series. Past speakers have included key leaders and numerous heads of state.

She was asked to discuss the University’s success in providing accessible and affordable education to students from a wide variety of socioeconomic classes.

“Folt is keenly interested in boosting undergraduate graduation rates, particularly among low-income, first generation and underrepresented students,” said Thomas Burr, vice president of the National Press Club. He noted that the Carolina Covenant – a program that awards low-income students a combination of grants, scholarships and work-study opportunities so they can avoid student loans and have the opportunity to graduate debt free – was instituted at UNC-Chapel Hill a decade ago.

At Carolina, nearly half of the University’s 18,000 undergraduates receive aid, and it is one of the few public universities that offer need-blind admissions and cover full financial need. The average debt for Carolina students at graduation has remained largely flat for more than a decade. As a result, The New York Times recently ranked Carolina the third most economically diverse top university in the country.

By providing the aid needed for graduating high school students, Folt said, students who would have been unable to attend college now have the opportunity – something that makes her extremely proud.

“This is enormously important if you’re going to help students obtain a successful degree,” Folt said. “Keeping the costs low is a way to really attract capable students.”

On average, Carolina students graduate with $16,150 in debt; the national average is more than $35,000, Folt said.

“Americans have $1 trillion in student debt,” she said. “They see tuition rising and we have to be able to counter that. To keep our tuition low we have to make choices all the time. And some of those are not fun — they hurt.

“Because affordability and accessibility is at the heart of everything, it will always be our default.”

More than 20 percent of current undergraduate students at UNC-Chapel Hill are the first in their families to attend college, and programs like the Carolina Covenant help provide support. Without that support, Folt said, college for many still wouldn’t be a possibility.

“I wouldn’t be standing here if I couldn’t have gone to college and worked as a waitress to pay my way through college,” Folt said. “I did that many years ago. I want to make sure that all those other people like me have that chance.”

Click here for Chancellor Folt’s full speech.