Cuts to Nevada’s higher education system criticized | NevadaAppeal.com

Cuts to Nevada’s higher education system criticized

CATHY BUSSEWITZ
Associated Press Writer
Nevada Assemblyman Morse Arberry, D-Las Vegas, said that student testimony about budget cuts to higher education brought tears to his eyes during a hearing Friday, Feb.27, 2009 at the Legislature in Carson City, Nev. Lawmakers continue to struggle with a more than $2 billion shortfall. (AP Photo/Nevada Appeal, Cathleen Allison)
AP | NEVADA APPEAL

Higher education officials told lawmakers Friday that to carry out Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons’ proposed budget cuts, they would have to lay off 2,000 full-time employees.

While the higher education system qualifies for federal stimulus funds, the officials also said the state might not be able to come up with the substantial matching funds required to qualify.

Vice Chancellor Dan Klaich said that the cuts would amount to the equivalent of closing all community colleges, which the state can’t do.

He added that if the state shut down the law school, dental school and intercollegiate athletics program at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, that only would accomplish a third of the necessary reduction.

“Those cuts will change the shape of higher education,” Klaich said.

“And they will slam the door shut for vast numbers of Nevadans who want to improve their future.”

The governor’s proposed budget for the higher education system proposed major spending reductions, including cuts of about 50 percent for the two state universities in Reno and Las Vegas.

Klaich said that because of the recession, enrollment in the higher education system is expected to increase, and the proposed funding won’t keep pace with that growth.

Klaich also said that if proposed pay cuts are approved, the schools would lose faculty, and added that because of contractual obligations, he may not be able to accomplish those reductions.

“When we have been asked to reduce our budget in a proportionate way, we have done so,” Klaich said, adding that in the past, the higher education system has accomplished cuts without affecting core programs.

“If cuts anywhere in the magnitude that are proposed by the governor are imposed, that just won’t be a possibility,” he said.

The state qualifies for $369 million in federal stimulus money for higher education. But to get the funding, at least $267 million in matching funds is needed ” and isn’t in Gibbons’ budget. If the higher education department can’t meet the matching requirement, the state’s K-12 education system also may not qualify for stimulus dollars.

Klaich said there is a possibility that the state may qualify for a waiver of those matching funds, but said he has not yet received enough information from the federal Department of Education on how to qualify.

College and university students from across the state told lawmakers they already face crowded classrooms and difficulty finding one-on-one time with professors. Many told stories about how they came from challenging backgrounds to attend college, an opportunity they fear may be lost.

“To be honest, statistically speaking, I should not be here today,” said Jarell Green, a University of Nevada, Reno student who said he was raised in housing projects, by a mother addicted to crack cocaine. Green said he earned a 3.68 GPA while working 30 hours per week and living with relatives.

“The only things that have placed me in front of you today are dreams, hope and financial aid combined with tuition that is affordable,” Green said. “If tuition were to be raised, I don’t know how, honestly, I would be able to attend college.”

Aaron Sanchez, student body president at Great Basin College in Elko, said rural health care facilities in his area are largely staffed by graduates of the nursing program he attended. Faced with a national nursing shortage and proposed cuts to his program, Sanchez said he is concerned that patients won’t get adequate care.

Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, said she would like to start from scratch and create a new budget for higher education, and asked higher education officials for a proposal. But she cautioned that the daunting task would be informed by harsh realities.

“Every day, we look at the economic news, and it’s getting worse,” Buckley said. “I find myself considering things that six months ago I would have said were inconceivable. It’s a sobering reality, but the best and brightest of our country are not predicting a bottom yet.”