Friday, Jan. 30, 2004 | 11:14 a.m.
After a heated two hours the university system Board of Regents unanimously agreed Thursday to reduce the amount of time students must live in Nevada before they become eligible for in-state tuition.
Students now have to live in Nevada only six months, instead of one year, before being eligible for the lower in-state rates. Those who have lived in the state more than six months and paid out-of-state rates for the current school year can apply to be reimbursed for overpayments.
Since 1995 university and community college policy has required 12 months' residency before students qualify for in-state tuition, in conflict with state law that defines residency for tuition purposes as six months.
But the University and Community College System of Nevada regents, meeting at the Community College of Southern Nevada's Henderson campus, put off a decision on whether to repay students who have been overcharged since 1995.
The motion, proposed by Regent Bret Whipple, instead says the regents will research the issue of reimbursing previous students and address other retroactive aspects at the next meeting in March.
Currently a Nevada resident pays $1,275 per semester at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas for 15 credits per semester. It costs an out-of-state student $4,244 for the same education.
A Nevada resident pays $709 per semester at the Community College of Southern Nevada for 15 credits per semester, for which an out-of-state student pays $2,254.
The decision was received with applause from students and parents in the audience and a standing ovation from Las Vegas businessman Stephen Cloobeck, who has a stepson who now will pay in-state tuition and who had offered to finance a court challenge to the policy.
Regent Steve Sisolak publicly credited student Sara Renteria, 24, a local woman who raised the issue earlier this month after she was billed for out-of-state tuition at the Community College of Southern Nevada.
"I'd just like to point out the hero here, Sara, and say thank you to her," he said. "She is helping out all students and is a hero."
Renteria, who sat next to her attorney Kim Stein and Sen. Randolph Townsend, R-Reno, shyly smiled to the applause that followed.
This was a different scene from just one hour earlier, when the regents denied a motion to change the policy and reimburse all students since 1995 who may have been wrongly charged out-of-state tuition.
The original motion, proposed by Sisolak, was denied 8-5 during a roll call.
Students and parents in the audience shook their heads in disgust as regent after regent said "no" to the motion.
After consecutive votes against the motion, Cloobeck stood up, pointed to the board and yelled across the auditorium, "If this were a business, you all would be bankrupt. What a circus." He then stormed out of the crowded room.
In the hallway Cloobeck told a small group that if his business had overcharged people and refused to pay them back, there would be a criminal complaint from the attorney general's office.
"Where's the criminal complaint against them?" Cloobeck asked. "This is so wrong and incorrigible that we would have elected officials acting like an (expletive) circus. It's simple, give all of the people their money back."
Whipple explained his vote against the first motion to include reimbursement for all students since 1995.
"I agree that we need to be in compliance, but the statute of limitations needs to be thought out more," he said. "We need to evaluate tuition waivers and rebates and how we would pay these students back. I'm concerned that waiving the statute of limitations could come back to haunt us. We don't have enough information right now to say yes to this."
Regent Mark Alden, who voted in favor of the first motion, disagreed.
"Legal and right don't need to necessarily match," he said. "Youngsters are entitled to the refund whether it's three years or nine years. No one did this deliberately, but we owe it to our students to make this right."
Chancellor Jane Nichols said the issue of how students would be reimbursed needs to be further investigated.
Nichols told regents that current state funds could not be used for financial rebates for previous years.
For the next month the regents will research options and investigate the possibility of reimbursement for all students dating back nine years before they reconsider the issue in March.
Townsend told the regents this morning that he has done some research on the matter and thinks that ultimately a court may have to decide how far back students would have to be repaid. However, he planned to ask the attorney general for an opinion and encouraged the university system counsel to work with the attorney general and legislative attorneys to come up with a solution short of a court decision.
"There's nothing that would preclude you from reimbursing all nine years," he said.