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OPINION: Higher education in Nevada



In 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, Nevada spent 6.7 percent of its total state expenditures on higher education. This ranked far below the national average of 10.1 percent. In comparison, Colorado spent 8.3 percent of total expenditures on higher education; neighboring Utah spent 10.1 percent.

In 2007, Nevada ranked 48th in per capita state and local government expenditures on higher education at $490 per resident. Wyoming spent nearly twice as much at $973 per resident and Utah spent $896. Every other Western state ranked above Nevada.

Now Governor Brian Sandoval has proposed an 18.7 percent cut to our colleges. In reality, this cut is much closer to 30 percent when a 5 percent college staff pay cut is taken into account, and because the governor assumes a 12 percent tuition hike for Nevada students.

Yes, Nevada young people and those working to learn new skills would pay an additional 12 percent under the Sandoval plan. In fact, if the higher education shortfall were to be covered through tuition hikes alone, tuition would have to skyrocket by an estimated 73 percent.

This comes at a time when College of Southern Nevada students literally camped outside to be in line for class registration. Why did they camp out to go to college? Because colleges such as CSN simply cannot accommodate the needs of all of the Nevadans who want to further their futures.

Further, workforce development and retraining could not be of more importance with unemployment at 15 percent. More than 85,000 construction workers are unemployed, and their industry simply will not recover to 2007 levels in the near future. Retraining our workforce for the jobs of the future depends on a strong system of higher education. Governor Sandoval is eliminating that option, and cutting off the possibility of a robust economic recovery or long-term economic diversification as a result.

Other Republican governors don’t feel the same

As Governor Sandoval proposes drastic cuts to higher education, the Republican governors of Virginia, Kansas, New Jersey and Nebraska view higher education as the key to turning their state’s lagging economies around. They are resisting cuts to higher education, and some are even proposing to increase funds, despite budget shortfalls.

Conservative Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell recently announced a $50 million investment in higher education, aimed at increasing the percentage of Virginians with higher education credentials from 42 to 55 percent in the next 15 years.

McDonnell cites:

  • For every $1 the state spends on higher education, it generates $13 in GDP
  • For every $1 the state spends on higher education it generates $1.39 in state revenue
  • Higher education accounts for more than 144,000 jobs and $9.5 billion in spending

Other Republican governors cite similar statistics as they work to improve higher education in their states. Kansas Governor Sam Brownback recently proposed a three-year, $105-million University Economic Growth Initiative to enhance job growth in three key economic clusters: cancer research, animal health research, and aviation.

In recent weeks, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman have also spoken about the need to support higher education during tough financial times. They know preserving and improving higher education will be a key to economic recovery.

What it means for Nevada

According to Chancellor Dan Klaich, every $1 of state support for higher education equals $4.39 in economic activity in Nevada.

The cuts to higher education will have an immediate negative impact on spending in Nevada during a time when the state desperately needs revenue. But that’s not the worst part.

In order for Nevada to truly diversify its economy it needs to produce a workforce that meets the needs of 21st century business. Our young people deserve the opportunity to compete for high-paying jobs.

Chancellor Dan Klaich testified to the following during a budget hearing in Carson City yesterday:

  • To offset a $162 million reduction in state spending, tuition and fees would need to increase 73 percent – or 83 percent if 15 percent of the tuition increases were set aside for financial aid, as the governor has proposed
  • The governor’s budget represents a 31 percent cut over two years to the University of Nevada, Reno
  • The governor’s budget represents a 28.6 percent cut over two years to Truckee Meadows Community College
  • Governor Sandoval’s proposed higher education budget cuts would be on top of reductions of 36 to 42 percent cuts imposed at universities and community colleges since 2009, resulting in a 9 percent reduction in staff, larger classes, lack of access to classes, and students taking longer to graduate

What Nevadans think

Nevadans are deeply concerned about these cuts. Young people want to get educated. They want to position themselves for better jobs and more opportunity in the future. The governor’s cuts are scary. Here are a few thoughts from Nevadans.

I know that an increase in tuition will mean that many of the faces I see on campus will not be able to return in the fall. I know that more cuts to programs and services will lead to students and staff looking elsewhere. If we continue to cut education, Nevada will become a ghost state. We must realize the importance of funding our schools and providing avenues for the best and the brightest to remain in the Silver State.
Mallory Cyr

My entire family’s future is directly affected by our ability to receive quality education. As Governor Sandoval continues to guilt the struggling people of Nevada with his “shared responsibility” rhetoric, he seems to be ignoring the fact that gutting the funding for education has only caused the people of Nevada to fall further and further behind in their appeal to quality employers.”
Tera Burbank
Mother, CSN graduate, UNLV student

In order to turn Nevada into the Renewable Energy Capital of the World, we will need to invest more in our education system. We will need to institute more programs that will allow for this vision to be enacted. We will need to show the businesses around the country that we have an educated and skilled population in place, ready and willing to work.
Aimee Riley

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