The Western Carolina University Board of Trustees approved a schedule of tuition and fees for the 2017-18 academic year that includes a 2 percent increase in tuition for students from North Carolina and a 3 percent increase in mandatory fees.The proposal, unanimously approved by the board at its regular quarterly meeting Friday, Dec. 9, would mean a $78 annual increase in tuition for in-state undergraduate students and an $82 annual increase in mandatory fees.The proposed schedule of tuition and fees must be approved by the University of North Carolina Board of Governors to become effective.The estimated $351,692 generated by the tuition increase would be used to provide additional support for academic initiatives, including investment in student retention and graduation programs; address salary issues as part of the university’s efforts to retain high-demand faculty and staff; and provide funding for enhanced student services and programming.Even with the increase in costs for the coming year, WCU will remain among the least-expensive institutions of higher education in the state, said Mike Byers, vice chancellor for administration and finance. The university sets fees for the next academic year as early as possible to give students and their families time to prepare for the costs of attending, Byers said.Students and families have a head start on preparing for the 2018-19 academic year. That’s when the NC Promise Tuition Plan, which will reduce out-of-pocket tuition costs to $500 per semester for in-state undergraduate students at WCU and two other UNC institutions, is set to be in effect.The plan also will reduce the out-of-pocket tuition costs for undergraduate students from states other than North Carolina to $2,500 per semester at WCU, the University of North Carolina at Pembroke and Elizabeth City State University.NC Promise was approved by the General Assembly as part of the state budget bill signed into law last summer by Gov. Pat McCrory. That bill also included an annual limit of 3 percent on the total mandatory fee increases at UNC institutions.The mandatory fee changes approved by WCU’s board, which total 3 percent, are: * A $26 increase (3.6 percent) in the athletics fee to support federal- and state-mandated salary and benefits increases for athletics department employees, which are not supported by state dollars; increases in scholarship support for student-athletes; and inflationary expenses. * A $10 increase (3.4 percent) in the health services fee to support the growing physical and mental health needs of a growing student body and to help cover inflationary expenses, including a 14 percent hike in the costs of prescription medications since 2014, the date of the last fee increase. * A $46 increase (8 percent) in the student activity fee to help cover the rising costs of personnel expenses, including salary and benefits increases for Student Affairs employees that are not supported by state dollars; and to fund maintenance and renovations at student facilities such as A.K. Hinds University Center, the Campus Recreation Center and intramural fields. In addition, the trustees authorized a $4 increase (1.38 percent) in the book rental surcharge, to help cover rising costs of textbooks. There will be no increases in fees for education and technology, transportation, sustainability, security and safety, documents and debt service for various campus construction projects. The board also approved an increase of $87 in special tuition rates charged by academic programs that have a higher cost of operation. Those programs are certified registered nurse anesthetist, doctorate in physical therapy, communication sciences and disorders, doctorate in nursing practice, family nurse practitioner master’s degree and graduate degrees in the College of Business. The trustees authorized establishment of a new tuition differential fee for the master’s degree program in social work.In addition, the board approved increases of approximately 4 percent in residence hall room rates to meet rising utility costs, prepare for adding housing capacity and continue renovations of existing facilities, and increases of approximately 3.25 percent in the cost of student meal plans to help meet the rising costs of food and food service personnel.Phil Drake, chair of the trustees’ finance and audit committee, presented the schedule of tuition and fees to the full board for approval following an afternoon of open discussion and committee meetings Thursday, Dec. 8.The action by the trustees comes after a series of meetings held by a campus tuition and fee committee including two open forum campus discussions, several information sessions sponsored by the Student Government Association and Resident Assistant Advisory Council, an SGA-sponsored live Facebook chat session and an online survey that received nearly 2,000 responses.With the proposed changes, WCU’s annual total cost for tuition, mandatory fees, standard residence hall rates and the most-popular meal plan would be $15,395 per year (two semesters) for a typical N.C. undergraduate student, up $432 (2.88 percent) over current year costs.