Practicable and Justiciable: Why North Carolina’s Constitutional Vision of Higher Education is Judicially Enforceable

by South A. Moore

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Abstract

Two hundred and twenty-five years ago, North Carolina established the nation’s oldest public university, choosing as its home a particularly inviting poplar tree in present-day Chapel Hill. Today, UNC-Chapel Hill is part of a sixteen-campus university system known nationwide for its commitment to ensuring that public universities remain financially accessible to the citizens who support them.

That commitment is codified in Article IX, Section 9 of the North Carolina Constitution, which requires that tuition at the State’s public universities be “as far as practicable . . . free of expense.” That clause was first introduced in North Carolina’s 1868 Constitution, nearly eighty years after UNC-Chapel Hill opened its doors. Before its imposition, higher education in North Carolina was anything but affordable. After ratification of the 1868 Constitution, tuition at the State’s public universities not only decreased, but remained at a steady, low-price for more than a century: $1450 in 2017 dollars, except for years when inflation spiked.

This Note argues that Article IX, Section 9 requires the General Assembly to fund higher education such that tuition does not exceed this amount, adjusted for inflation—a standard leaders in Raleigh have failed to meet for nearly two decades.

Should legislators fail to heed this constitutional mandate, students could successfully challenge the legislature’s refusal to adequately fund higher education.

Practicable and Justiciable: Why North Carolina’s Constitutional Vision of Higher Education is Judicially Enforceable

by South A. Moore

Click here for a PDF file of this article

Abstract

Two hundred and twenty-five years ago, North Carolina established the nation’s oldest public university, choosing as its home a particularly inviting poplar tree in present-day Chapel Hill. Today, UNC-Chapel Hill is part of a sixteen-campus university system known nationwide for its commitment to ensuring that public universities remain financially accessible to the citizens who support them.

That commitment is codified in Article IX, Section 9 of the North Carolina Constitution, which requires that tuition at the State’s public universities be “as far as practicable . . . free of expense.” That clause was first introduced in North Carolina’s 1868 Constitution, nearly eighty years after UNC-Chapel Hill opened its doors. Before its imposition, higher education in North Carolina was anything but affordable. After ratification of the 1868 Constitution, tuition at the State’s public universities not only decreased, but remained at a steady, low-price for more than a century: $1450 in 2017 dollars, except for years when inflation spiked.

This Note argues that Article IX, Section 9 requires the General Assembly to fund higher education such that tuition does not exceed this amount, adjusted for inflation—a standard leaders in Raleigh have failed to meet for nearly two decades.

Should legislators fail to heed this constitutional mandate, students could successfully challenge the legislature’s refusal to adequately fund higher education.