Jason Geddes and Michael Wixom guest column: Higher education needs increased state funding
An educated citizenry contributes to an improved quality of life for all. At the college level, the money to pay faculty and keep the lights on comes from tuition and fees, workforce and research grants, and state dollars. However, state funds for the 8 institutions in the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) decreased dramatically, by nearly 30 percent, during the Great Recession from a high of $683,818,577 in 2009 to $472,368,017 in 2013.
The NSHE Board of Regents has been forced to increase tuition and fees since 2008 in order to partially offset the decrease in state funds. In addition the Board increased faculty workloads, imposed faculty and staff wage cuts and furloughs, decreased administrative positions and costs, closed programs and decreased student support services in order to balance the budget. The Board continues to look to efficiencies and institutional shared services to maximize the use of its limited resources. In order to continue to build the economy and graduate more students, Nevada must reinvest in higher education. This effort will undoubtedly require tuition and fee increases and an additional investment from the state.
Nevadans expect higher education to provide more teachers, workforce training and health care professionals. This can be done, but at a price. The Board has worked with the campuses and staff to determine the cost of providing what Nevadans have requested. It then approved and submitted a realistic budget request that could deliver on expectations.
In essence, education is a transfer of knowledge to enhance human capital—our greatest asset. Consistent with the Governor’s budget instructions for all state employees, the Board of Regents is seeking elimination of the six day per year furlough requirement, the additional funds needed for classified salary step increases, professional merit costs, and other inflationary costs to ensure we remain competitive in attracting and retaining the best and brightest faculty and staff.
As part of this investment in human capital, the Board requested the following budget items, in priority order:
· $25 million for the state to begin to reinvest the losses to the instruction budgets of the last six years, including student support services, and campus operations and maintenance.
· $5.0 million bridge funding for Great Basin College and Western Nevada to partially offset the negative impact of the new funding formula for the rural colleges.
· $0.7 million in Desert Research Institute bridge funding to partially offset loss of state support during the transition to a new entrepreneurial business model.
· $3.0 million for the William S. Boyd School of Law at UNLV to offset declining applications and enrollments
The Board has developed a comprehensive and aggressive plan for expanding public medical education. The request for the biennium includes:
· $31.7 million to establish a new medical school in Las Vegas and the expansion of the University of Nevada, Reno, School of Medicine (UNSOM)
· $9.9 million to support enhancement of medical residencies
· $4.3 million one time funding for Medical Education Technology
In addition, the Board has supported the following legislative initiatives:
·$10 million Knowledge Fund
· $6 million Workforce Development Fund
·$3.5 million Stem Challenge Grant Program
·$10 million state supported need based financial aid program
Raising tuition and fees by 4 percent was not an easy decision. The Board, with strong student support, decided it was a necessary step. The students and their families are paying more and have skin in the game. Governor Sandoval put together a budget proposal that gets the state reinvesting in higher education. It is time for Nevadans to contact their legislators and encourage them to build upon that budget and fully invest in higher education.
Dr. Jason Geddes represents District 11 in Washoe-Pershing Counties and Michael Wixom represents Regent District 6 in Clark County. Both are former Chairs of the Board of Regents.