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July 3, 2015

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Sun Editorial:

Parity? What’s that?

State budget for higher education system fails to best serve Nevada

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Last August, university system regents passed a budget that was a supposed win for Southern Nevada. Officials talked about the “shift” of funding from northern and rural campuses to the south.

More than $13.2 million of additional money was supposed to go to three southern teaching institutions — UNLV, Nevada State College and CSN. The budget was hailed for bringing a sense of parity to the way the Nevada System of Higher Education funds its schools.

Not that the money was much. For UNLV, it amounted to $3.1 million for the coming fiscal year, a drop or two in the bucket. That wouldn’t restore the years of underfunding, but the plan was heading in the right direction. If nothing else, it was an acknowledgment that things had been broken.

Northern schools were expected to see a decrease in money from the state's general fund. The shocker under the proposal was that estimates showed UNR would lose about $1.2 million. That appeared to be a sign that the status quo was changing. The Nevada System of Higher Education’s funding scheme has long favored the northern campuses, which all draw a larger share of their budgets from the state’s general fund than the southern campuses. They also have received a higher level of funding per student.

But any sense of parity was short-lived. Each time the system office has put out a new analysis of the budget as facts and enrollment figures change, the number coming to Southern Nevada drops. Chancellor Dan Klaich sent a report to the Legislature on April 10 saying the “shift” of funding to Southern Nevada would be $8.8 million.

If $13.2 million was parity, what do you call $8.8 million?

For longtime political observers, the answer is easy: the status quo. Southern Nevada is once again seeing the promises of more funding slowly disappear. The cynics would even suggest — with reason — that the number will likely be shaved even more before the budget is passed.

Under Klaich’s analysis, UNLV and CSN would each see an additional $2.2 million over the current fiscal year. So much for any windfall. Nevada State College would receive the bulk of the shifted money, which may be fitting considering it has been so poor that it had to ask students to raise their fees just to build classroom space, an expense usually borne by the state.

And remember UNR, the crown jewel of the north, losing money? That’s no longer the case. It would stand to gain $2.2 million a year in general fund money. The rural campuses that are set to lose millions of dollars would see their budgets supplemented with money from — where else? — Southern Nevada’s campuses.

Is that parity?

The state has tried to make things fair by using a funding formula for the colleges and universities that allows for comparisons between campuses, so, for example, the funding for an economics class is roughly the same at the universities. But that does not take into account larger equity issues.

The old formula, hijacked by politics, failed to properly distribute state money, and the Legislature asked for a new one. A committee created by the 2011 Legislature spent last year studying various formulas and offered a series of recommendations to bring more fairness to the process. But ideas have been ignored or tossed aside, and what’s now passing for a formula looks no better than the old one. Add to that the budget games that bureaucrats play and the sense of fairness has been undercut.

For example, the schools appear to be about equal in terms of the amount of state general fund money per student they’ll receive under the new formula. But UNR’s budget pushes millions of dollars into accounts not covered by the formula. When all of the state money is counted, UNR would receive more than $1,200 per student more than UNLV.

How’s that fair?

Obviously, it’s not, and it makes a terrible statement, essentially saying students in Northern Nevada are worth more than students here. Surely, that’s not the message state officials want to send.

But the budget seems vacant of any clear policy. And the absence of policy has been replaced by sleight of pencil. The budget’s authors seem to have searched to find a certain bottom line for the various schools without thinking of the implications those numbers would have.

Considering that Southern Nevada is the state’s economic engine with nearly three-quarters of the population, how is undercutting the public colleges and universities that serve the area good for Nevada?

That’s a question lawmakers should ask because what’s often forgotten in the Legislature is this: Neglecting Southern Nevada is neglecting the state’s future.

If lawmakers are serious about higher education, they’ll go back and rework this budget — with more transparency this time — find ways to provide fairly for all the campuses and make sure that Southern Nevada doesn’t get passed over once again.

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  1. When it comes to education and academic achievement, you can't do more with less.

    Carmine D

  2. It is understandable, that Northern Lawmakers view Southern Nevada's population differently, because they are. Work ethic and values are a start of how they might judge how "worthy" Southern Nevada is of scarce funding. The bulk load of low literate individuals exists in Southern Nevada, those who have no greater career aspirations than parking cars at a resort, serving at a counter, day laborers, or by virture of the kinds of people who immigrate here, have their children in Southern Nevada schools, on Free/Reduced Lunch Programs, and who don't bother to learn the English language, let alone support their children in learning it. You are throwing good money after bad, and that, my friends, is how THEY view it. That is what drives the politics behind it.

    Until such conditions improve, the funding will continue in such a manner. There is a great deal of Northern hostility towards supporting those who come here illegally, draining the resources for those who are here legally. Folks in the North have long ago drawn the battle line, and they will defend it for the duration. It may take several generations before that stand weakens. By then, maybe the new Federal immigration laws will have taken hold and shift educational outcomes favorably enough to warrant more educational funding to Southern Nevada. Just saying from what I know of living up North....

    Blessings and Peace,

  3. Wow, imagine my surprise that a system that doesn't work continues not to work. Urge your legislators to support AB 150 and SB 391. The former would introduce more accountability to state government and the latter would examine removing the state's community colleges from the higher ed system and moving them to a separate group under the department of education. NSHE is fighting these because it opposes accountability and any loss of power to destroy.

  4. Vegas money needs to stay in Vegas. Plenty of people in Vegas value education and want Vegas money to stay in our community to benefit the children and families who worked with their hands to earn it.

  5. The old funding formula was more cost-based and class-based. While the new one has elements that connect to graduation/success rates, most of the funding is population-based. The so-called "north" has one university that has fewer students than either CSN or UNLV, and three community colleges that together have about half the students of CSN. The "new" funding formula was supposed to drop funding slightly for UNR -- something that may now change (see editorial), slightly for TMCC, and drastically for the two rural colleges (WNC, GBC).

    The problem is that a drastic (20%+) cut for a college like WNC or GBC is a drop in the proverbial bucket for UNLV or CSN. GBC alone is scheduled to lose 30% of its total budget once the final formula kicks in...but that amount does virtually nothing for CSN or UNLV.

    In all seriousness, only a large cut to UNR could bring to CSN the sort of money that they have hoped for, but the formula shifts based on population -- which means that only rural counties (where there's no significant cash) truly "lose."

    The discussions of parity have been focused on an assumption that parity means a population model. True "parity" would mean taking into account costs, discipline-based funding, and other factors equally -- not just population. A population model only kills the rural colleges, bringing very little into the cities. UNLV, CSN, and the whole system are more important than just butts in seats.

  6. Comment removed by moderator. Off Topic

  7. We should stop funding higher ed all together. It is wasteful (higher ed itself is highly wasteful). Instead some of tWe should stop funding higher ed all together. It is wasteful (higher ed itself is highly wasteful). Instead some of the tax dollars should be used for means tested scholarships (that way we can still help lower income kids).

    As it stands UNR spends over $32,000 per pupil and UNLV over $24,000 per pupil. There is no reason it should cost this much other than they're bloated, inefficient and incompetently administered.

    If you think higher ed should still be public because it makes it affordable to low-income kids check your facts. About half of Nevada's students are Pell grant eligible but only 10% of UNR students can get a Pell grant. UNR is for wealthy white kids. UNLV is only slightly better on the demographics but it can't even graduate 50% of its full time students after 8 years of college.
    he tax dollars should be used for means tested scholarships (that way we can still help lower income kids).

    As it stands UNR spends over $32,000 per pupil and UNLV over $24,000 per pupil. There is no reason it should cost this much other than they're bloated, inefficient and incompetently administered.