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December 19, 2014

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Nevada’s higher education needs increased tuition and fees

On Friday, the Board of Regents will vote on whether to increase state college and university registration fees from 2 to 4 percent in each of the next four academic years. While no one wants to make it more expensive for Nevada students to go go to college, decreasing state support and increasing demands leave us few options.

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. State funds for the eight colleges and universities in the Nevada System of Higher Education decreased dramatically during the Great Recession, from a high of $683 million in 2009 to $475 million in 2014.

The ongoing federal budget stalemates and sequestration decreased the federal research and teaching grants throughout the country, including our campuses, leaving only two sources from which to retain faculty and build our institutions: donations and fees.

My wife and I were first-generation Nevada college graduates. We put ourselves through college with full-time jobs, scholarships and student loans. We did so because we thought it was worth the investment. Recent data has shown that a college education continues to be a wise investment. Those with a four-year degree have an unemployment rate of less than 3 percent and earn an average of almost $500,000 more in a lifetime than those with only a high school diploma or less.

The Board of Regents has increased 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. To continue to build the economy and graduate more students, Nevada needs to continue to invest in higher education. This will require tuition and fee increases along with additional investment from the state.

As Nevada grows its way out of this deep recession, it has asked higher education to provide more teachers, provide more workforce training and expand graduate medical education. In addition, if Nevada expects to be able to compete in the future, it will need to open a second medical school, achieve Carnegie Very High Research status at the two universities and graduate even more Nevadans. These are all necessary but do come at a price. Expanded medical education will require an investment of $20 million to $60 million per year. Improving the research capacity to meet the needs of the State Plan for Economic Development will require a seven-year investment of $56 million at UNR and $60 million at UNLV, plus an estimated $478 million in laboratory/research space and support infrastructure.

The prospect of raising tuition and fees is not an easy one. But it is a necessary step. All tuition and fee increases that have come before the Board of Regents in my time have been supported by strategic spending plans and student and faculty support. The increases in fees are intended to provide a portion of the required resources to meet the needs of Nevada and Nevadans.

Dr. Jason Geddes, a graduate of UNR, is a member of the Board of Regents, representing Washoe and Pershing counties.

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