CHAPEL HILL-In his final weeks before leaving office, UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp is speaking out about the lingering problems surrounding college affordability—and the importance of keeping a college education accessible to deserving students as the General Assembly discusses possible major cuts to university programs.

During last week’s meeting of the Chapel Hill Friends of the Downtown, Thorp said many high-achieving students, particularly those living outside of urban settings, don’t know all of the opportunities available to them.

“There are lots of folks in rural areas who are valedictorians and have 1500s on their SATs who are going to their local community college or local regional public university because that’s the only one they’ve heard of,” he says.

Thorp adds that tuition cost is one of the major culprits behind keeping these students out of top-notch universities.

“A lot of these kids could go to Harvard, MIT, or Wash U for free, but they don’t realize that,” he says. “One of the reasons they don’t think that’s possible is because they hear it costs $50,000 or $60,000 a year to go to these schools.”

And Thorp adds that for Carolina specifically, certain students might even be able to attend at no cost—but they might not be aware of that opportunity.

“If they know Carolina will only cost $20,000 a year, they are more likely to think that they’re going to be able to come here, and then after they apply they get a letter back that says they’re not going to pay anything,” he says. “But a lot of them don’t know that.”

Thorp’s remarks come on the heels of a heated demonstration about college affordability in North Carolina; earlier this month, five students, including two from UNC, were arrested after protesting outside the Legislative Building against Republication Governor Pat McCrory’s proposed budget. If his version of the budget takes effect, the UNC System will see $140 in cuts—including fewer dollars invested in financial aid—along with rising tuition costs.