Las Vegas Sun

July 16, 2019

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With colleges’ budget cuts final, what now?

At UNLV, spending will follow a strategy

Nevada’s public colleges have been hit hard by the state’s financial crisis.

Students will see tuition go up at a time when schools are offering fewer classes in many areas. Some faculty members, including recent hires, are quitting or looking for other jobs, disenchanted with the way Nevada has handled the budget nightmare.

But silver linings can always be found, even in the angriest, ugliest storm clouds. Now that the Legislature has agreed on a budget for higher education, it’s time to focus on the future.

Although reductions will hurt state colleges in the short term, the news isn’t all bad. Here’s a look at how some schools stand to benefit from what has been an otherwise painful process.

At UNLV, many faculty members have complained that as the university grew in past years, it added dozens of programs while failing to give the most promising ones the money or staff necessary to be successful.

Now, with little money to go around, administrators say they are trying to allocate resources more strategically.

The university has eliminated or left open more than 360 jobs this year. UNLV President David Ashley has said that when the time comes to fill about 100 vacant faculty positions, “rather than spread them across the campus, I would hope that we would be deliberate and invest those in places that make strategic sense, that create areas of real prestige and real reputation.”

Executive Vice President and Provost Neal Smatresk says cuts have forced administrators to concentrate on improving efficiency.

“When we emerge from this downturn we will be a leaner, meaner institution,” Smatresk wrote in an e-mail. “At that point investments will be focused on strategic priorities so growth will be more closely aligned to our strategic plan (than) it may have been in the past.”

The College of Southern Nevada also has something to celebrate. Of Nevada’s four community colleges, CSN receives the least state funding per student. Faculty members and administrators have long complained about the inequity.

And this year, legislators addressed the issue.

The pool of state money for higher education is divvied up among campuses using a complicated funding formula that takes into account factors including enrollment. For fiscal 2010, the current legislative budget gives the college $1.5 million on top of the amount it will get through the formula, CSN spokesman K.C. Brekken said. The college will get an additional $500,000 on top of formula funding in fiscal 2011, Brekken said.

“It’s a very positive thing for us that our equity funding was discussed and recognized,” Brekken said. “We’ve been trying to get there for a number of years, and so we’re all very happy.”

The disparity has its roots in the 1990s, when CSN’s funding failed to keep pace with rapid enrollment growth.

The Nevada System of Higher Education has benefitted too, in at least one way.

As the budget crisis deepened late last year, higher education Chancellor Jim Rogers berated students and faculty members for not standing up against cuts.

When about 150 students showed up at a December regents meeting to protest potential fee increases, Rogers told them, “I am delighted that every one of you is here. My only question would be: Why has it taken you so long?”

Since then, activism on the part of members of the campus community has increased. In 2009, students, staff and faculty members participated in rallies against proposed cuts and sent thousands of letters and e-mails to Carson City exhorting state legislators to protect higher education.

The successful campaign to organize campuses against budget cuts could serve as a blueprint for future lobbying efforts.

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