Equity rears its head again | NevadaAppeal.com

Equity rears its head again

Southern Nevada university officials, who demanded that the study of equity between Nevada campuses include comparisons with out-of-state schools, decided Thursday it would be better to focus inside the state.

They came to that conclusion after being advised they couldn’t skip over all the implications of those peer studies and just use the bottom line to increase funding for the University of Nevada Las Vegas.

Sen. Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, the Senate minority leader and a UNLV professor, said her constituents don’t care about campuses in other states.

“What they care about is they are getting their fair share of tax dollars for higher education in the state of Nevada,” she said.

The bottom line numbers show that UNLV is about 8 percent underfunded compared to its peer campuses – those with similar size and programs around the country. They also show that the University of Nevada Reno is nearly 24 percent per student above the average of its peers.

Regent Steve Sisolak, who has spearheaded the efforts to move higher education funding from Reno to Las Vegas on the argument that the south is being cheated, said those numbers back up the equity study during the 1999 Legislature which showed UNR spends far more per student than UNLV and $23 million a year should be shifted south to fix the gap.

But his enthusiasm for the concept diminished sharply after he was told it wasn’t intended as a way to calculate how much budget money to move south.

Majority Leader and Committee Chairman Richard Perkins, D-Henderson, said the committee’s charge is to create new formulas for funding the university system which attempt to fairly distribute funding among the campuses in the university system using a variety of factors.

Speaker Joe Dini, D-Yerington, said peer analysis was to be a tool in the process of developing formulas to “continue providing a quality education for all the people in this state.”

But peer analysis “ought not to go overboard and be used to say institution-X deserves $3.2 million more,” he said.

That battle, he said, is a political one and not something that should be made part of long-term formulas.

Consultant Larry Leslie of the University of Arizona said bottom line percentages don’t take into account the compexity of the programs offered or the fact that some programs such as engineering or medicine cost far more to offer.

He said other schools that match UNR’s offerings, including master’s and doctoral degrees, are generally far larger and benefit greatly from “economies of scale.” Being so small, he said, sharply increases the per-student cost at the Reno campus and said a full analysis of those issues would probably justify most of the per-pupil funding gap.

“Then why are we doing it?” UNLV Foundation representative Don Snyder asked.

Perkins quickly pointed out that peer analysis was “in some sense demanded by some of the institutions in the system.” UNLV and the Community College of Southern Nevada wanted peer analysis of funding to prove their case for a bigger share of the university system pie.

The committee made no decision on what to do with the issue.

Members plan to spend the next few meetings working on formulas for funding both universities, the four community colleges, Desert Research Institute and the Henderson four-year campus once it gets going.

The committee set its next meeting for March 24.