He is running for the board of education but he doesn’t want any votes. He has no platform, his campaign fund consists of $100 and he admits others are more qualified for the job.
Brian Bower, a graduate student in the Biology Department at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, is running for the local board of education as a stunt to prove he deserves in-state tuition.
“My goal is to basically bring attention to this issue and become a bit of a pain in the neck,” Bower said.
The issue in question is the process of determining who receives in-state tuition at public universities.
Bower was born and raised in Ohio and attended Ohio University in Athens as an undergraduate. In August 2009, Bower moved to Chapel Hill, NC for graduate school. After being denied residency twice, Bower says he became fed up and decided to run for the board of education.
“I consider it a little bit ridiculous,” he said. “So if I’m put in a ridiculous position I am not opposed to reacting a bit ridiculously.”
Bower’s most recent application for residency states that the 28-year-old pays taxes in North Carolina and has a North Carolina driver’s license, insurance and hunting license, among others.
But in North Carolina this information isn’t necessarily enough to gain in-state tuition. Like many other public universities, UNC-Chapel Hill requires that an applicant prove intent to remain in the state indefinitely.
The College of William and Mary in Virginia requires it as well, according to University Registrar Sara Marchello.
Marchello said that though residency applications were a “rare appeal,” less than five percent of them are denied. Marchello said she thinks specifically pointing out the requirements necessary for getting in-state tuition keeps ineligible candidates from applying.
“We’ve worked really hard to make our website as clear as possible,” she said. “I think we do a pretty good job at telling people what the requirements are.”
Two to three dozen graduate students successfully make the transition from out-of-state to in-state each year by proving their intent to stay through proof of internships or employment offers, Marchello said.
At UNC-Chapel Hill, Bower said it was lack of specificity that made the residency application hard to fill out.
Leslie Lerea, UNC-CH Associate Dean for Student Affairs at the graduate school, said the university’s policies are based on a state statute and cannot be met with a check list.
“There are no specific steps,” said Leslie Lerea. “There is no check list.”
Lerea said that Bower’s candidacy was a good way to integrate into the community, one of the suggested ways to prove intent to stay. But it did not prove he was a resident for tuition purposes.
“Residing in North Carolina does not necessarily meet the criteria for being recognized as a North Carolina resident for tuition purposes as mandated in the North Carolina state statute,” she said.
But these requirements are not representative of all universities.
Northern Michigan University was identified in a US News and World Report article on how to get in-state tuition as one of the universities with the least strict policies. The university allows out of state students to become in state by living in Michigan for 6 consecutive months prior to the semester of their application.
“The typical situation is a student who lives off campus during the summer, has a job on campus or in the community and is really here,” said Gerri Daniels, Director of Admissions.
Unlike many other universities, Northern Michigan University does not take parent’s residency into consideration when granting in-state tuition to students, even if the parents are paying tuition.
“The student is the one who is a resident or non-resident,” Daniels said. “It doesn’t really go back to who is signing the check.”
But proving residency is not the only way to gain in-state tuition.
Regional tuition-exchange programs allow students in a certain geographical area to attend a university outside their state for a discounted or in-state tuition rate.
The Southern Regional Education Board’s Academic Common Market, the New England Board of Higher Education’s Tuition Break, the Midwestern Higher Education Compact’s Midwest Student Exchange Program and the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education’s Professional Student Exchange, Western Regional Graduate and Western Undergraduate Exchange programs all provide a way for students to attend universities in other states at reduced costs.
All of the states in the US participate in one of the four tuition-exchange programs except Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey, said Jennifer Dahlquist of the Midwestern Higher Education Compact.
Dahlquist said these programs help students save money while helping smaller, regional universities attract students.
Even so, many students still find themselves in the typical situation of moving with their families to the state where they will attend college. For them, the process of applying for residency can be as tedious as Bower’s.
North Carolina State University First Year, Ellie June, said the application is long.
“There was an application that was 13 pages long asking all these crazy questions,” she said.
June’s mother moved from Maryland to North Carolina in July 2010. In October 2010, June applied for residency but was denied because she hadn’t lived in North Carolina for a year. This June, her second application was approved.
“I think it’s fair but I also think it’s very long,” June said. “It’s an annoying process I guess.”
Meanwhile in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Brian Bower continues to wait for the results of his residency application and remains in the running for education board member.
But board of education candidate James Barrett said he worries that Bower’s candidacy could affect the outcome of the election.
“I think it’s unfortunate that he is using what is a serious race for what is being described as a stunt,” he said.
Fellow candidate Mia Burroughs said she hopes Bower will remove his candidacy before the ballots are printed.
But as November approaches, Bower has shown no intention of doing so, despite the fact that he stands to gain no money from the switch, as his aid package covers many of his expenses.
“Ultimately I am not doing this for my own financial gain,” Bower said. “I see my boss every day. He has made it clear that it would be good for me to be a resident. I do not want to [upset him].”
Bower’s employer, Dr. Jack Griffith, said he hopes Bower’s residency application will be approved.
“It is expected that students will do whatever they can to get in-state residency because it saves the university or faculty from having to pay for out-of-state tuition,” Griffith said.
Bower is certainly trying.
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