Universities ask for more money

Nevada University officials say even though enrollment is increasing less than projected, they want to keep the extra money.

Dan Miles, representing the system, said when enrollment was higher than expected two years ago, lawmakers refused to increase the university system's per-student formula funding. He said that caused the percentage of total costs that formula pays for to drop from 86 percent to 84 percent. He said lawmakers should use the same reasoning this year when enrollment is falling short of projections.

"Two years ago, you held the money the same and let the percentage slip," he said. "We're asking you hold the money the same despite lower enrollments and allow it to raise the formula percentage."

The per-student formula is what guides the entire university system budget, which is largely general-fund money. Even a 1 percent change is worth millions of dollars.

Cutting enrollment projections by 5,000 students over the biennium would reduce funding about $23.5 million.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, suggested the Legislature would rather cut back funding and save the money.

"All we're asking is you use the 2003 solution to this problem," Miles responded.

The issue was raised as university officials made their case for more money than the $1.5 billion total two-year budget recommended by Gov. Kenny Guinn.

In addition to keeping the $23.5 million, they asked lawmakers to add $132 million to the budget in "unfunded priorities." That total includes $27.15 million in technology enhancements, $22.94 million in health initiatives, $4.55 million in enhancements to the system's nursing programs and amounts for such things as library books and raises for part-time faculty members.

Officials said a critical technology enhancement is $10 million to begin creating a system that tracks students, employees and financial data system wide. They estimated it could eventually cost $50 million. But they said with existing systems - which are up to 15 years old and unable to communicate with each other, the institutions can't track students or employees through their university careers.

The committee took no action on the proposed budget. Budgets for the university system and public schools are traditionally among the last to be closed. For one reason, they are often the beneficiaries of any money left over at the end of the legislative process.

This year, lawmakers are hoping the state's economic prosperity will translate into higher revenue projections when the Economic Forum meets May 1.

Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at gdornan@nevadaappeal.com or 687-8750.


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