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REGIONALREPORT Western

UNC Asheville learns to get more out of less
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The myriad university rankings published by magazines such as U.S. News & World Report are great publicity for the schools that make them, but UNC Asheville Chancellor Anne Ponder would never make a decision solely to improve her institution’s grade. “However, if you are excelling in both quality and affordability, as we are, it is not surprising you’ll show up in some of those rankings.” Her school’s affordability has been particularly popular lately. Forbes, The Fiske Guide to Colleges and The Princeton Review included it among their best values this year. In September, U.S. News & World Report noted that its class of 2012 had the 18th lowest average debt of any liberal-arts college in the U.S.
It helps that the school is in North Carolina, whose UNC system offers cheaper tuition than public universities in most states. UNC Asheville administrators also recognize that it, as a small institution of almost 4,000, must narrow its scope. “We are not able to offer contributions in a wide range of fields,” Ponder says, “but we’re focused on excellence in undergraduate education.” Facing state-budget cuts due to the recession, the school created in October 2010 a strategic plan that includes streamlining its core curriculum. It, for instance, reduces its number of adjunct instructors, which reduces the number of courses it offers and increases teacher workloads. “It’s the kind of business sense and financial acumen you would find in some of the best for-profit businesses,” Ponder says.
“Prospective students pay a lot of attention to these rankings, and parents especially pay attention to the value and debt ratios,” Director of Admissions Shannon Earle told the Asheville Citizen-Times. “For students doing tours from out of state, these types of rankings can make the difference as to whether or not we’re on their list to visit.” But the university might not be able to brag about its return on investment much longer after the General Assembly cut funding to the UNC system. “In my view, the legislature underinvested in the future of the state,” Ponder says. “If that trend were to continue, what had been a great glory, a great economic advantage for North Carolina, can be at-risk.”
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Briefs

HENDERSONVILLE — Raleigh-based First Citizens BancShares will acquire 1st Financial Services, the parent of Mountain 1st Bank & Trust, for $10 million. Of that, $8 million will pay off Mountain 1st’s Troubled Asset Relief Program obligation. The deal will add $692 million in assets to First Citizens’ $21 billion and is expected to close in the first quarter of 2014.
 
ASHEVILLE — HomeTrust Bancshares, the parent of HomeTrust Bank, will repurchase 5% of its outstanding shares through the open market and private negotiations.

MONTREAT — Montreat College will merge with Point University in West Point, Ga. Montreat, which has about 850 students, will take Point’s name, but the schools plan to maintain separate campuses. Point University has 1,400 students.

ASHEVILLE — McLean, Va.-based Gannett named Dave Neill publisher and president of the Asheville Citizen-Times. He comes from the Naples (Fla.) Daily News, where he was publisher, and replaces Randy Hammer, who announced his retirement in August.