Letters to the editor for Thursday, March 17, 2016
Restore rural factor to higher education funding
One of the original land grant colleges, today UNR is a Tier 1 university ranked by US News as 187th best out of more than 1,600 institutions reviewed. But you don’t stay on the top tier of anything by resting on your laurels, so UNR President Marc Johnson’s plans to enroll more students, build more buildings, and hire more professors to free up faculty time for research pursuits are more than just pipe dreams. They reflect the kind of bold vision needed for Nevada to maintain its standing in a competitive world.
But some of the money Dr. Johnson needs to make his expansion plans a reality has to come from the Legislature, which has to balance the lofty ambitions of UNR and UNLV with the far humbler but just as real needs of community colleges serving rural towns like Fallon, Battle Mountain and Pahrump.
Providing quality classroom instruction in basic academic and technical subjects is inherently more expensive in remote areas of the Great Basin where population densities are lower and class sizes are smaller. That’s a reality that was once acknowledged and compensated for by the “rural factor” component of the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) funding formula. But once the rural counties’ political clout was diluted by term limits, the balance of power shifted south and the rural factor went south with it.
There may have been a fair argument for trimming the rural factor’s excesses, but not for abolishing it all together. Western Nevada and Great Basin colleges have been making heroic efforts to adapt by introducing new revenue-enhancing programs and degrees and putting new technologies to work, but the fair argument now is for NSHE, the Regents, the Legislature and the governor to restore some kind of rural factor to the higher education funding formula.