March 10, 2004 2 min read

Facial Expressions

There’s plenty of evidence that rising college prices are forcing North Carolina students to work longer hours, drop out of more classes, and slide further into debt—402 pages of it, to be exact.

Students from across the state offer first-person tales of hardship in The Personal Stories Project: Faces, Not Numbers, a book compiled by student leaders from the North Carolina system’s 16 public four-year institutions.

The project was undertaken last year by the University of North Carolina Association of Student Governments, which asked undergraduates to submit letters by e-mail describing how they had been affected by recent tuition increases. The goal was to persuade state and university leaders to avoid imposing similar increases in the future.

The association compiled the submissions, paid to have 500 bound copies published, and released the collection of roughly 800 personal stories on Feb. 9. The organization also put up a Web site,

“I worked 30 to 40 hours a week every week during my junior year,” writes Rachel Alexis Johnson, a student at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C. “I was falling asleep in classes and at work. I was trying to study while taking orders at Wendy’s. I did not have a fall break, Thanksgiving break, Christmas break, or spring break. Break was not a word that fit in my vocabulary.”

Whether the book will kindle changes in college pricing or wither away like kindling in the state’s budgetary furnace remains unclear. But Jim Phillips, a Greensboro, N.C., lawyer who serves on the UNC system’s 32- member Board of Governors, thought highly enough of the work to brandish a copy at a board meeting last month, telling colleagues that it reinforced many of the panel’s already-stated worries that rising costs are cutting off access to classes, academic programs, and faculty. Last year, officials at UNC-Chapel Hill announced plans to give qualified low-income students enough grant aid to graduate debt-free.

This month, the board will consider a request to increase tuition at 14 of the 16 state universities—which have different yearly prices—by $300, for the 2004-05 school year. The legislature can approve or reject the board’s tuition recommendations.

“The content of the book and the stories and letters are already at the heart of what the board [is going to be looking at] this year,” Mr. Phillips said.

—Sean Cavanagh