Las Vegas Sun

February 27, 2024

Over student objections, regents raise undergraduate tuition 8 percent


AP Photo/Cathleen Allison

Dan Klaich, chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education, testifies Monday, June 6, 2011, at the Legislature in Carson City as lawmakers wrap up their 120-day Legislative session.

What chancellor, regents said

Chancellor Dan Klaich: “I think that an additional fee increase is warranted and positive.”

Regent Michael Wixom: “I have no desire to raise tuition fees but for reasons (stated before), we’re forced to.”

Regent Kevin Melcher: “Every time we delay our decision, there is a lot of stress for students and families. We need to make a decision today...It’s unfortunate we’re in this situation. I’m not happy.”

Regent Rick Trachok: “I don’t think we’re well served by kicking the can down the road. My question is how will this improve the quality (of higher education)?

Regent Cedric Crear: “(Not getting student input) goes back on everything we’ve said. If students don’t believe they had a fair shake at this, I know this board doesn’t condone it.”

Regent Ron Knecht: “We are a low price leader in higher education. (But), we have been increasing tuition and fees faster than family income and inflation. Tuition is getting beyond family budgets.”

Regent Jack Schofield: “These kids...they deserve the right to go back and discuss this. They’re the people who are going to pay the bill...(Not doing so) is like rubbing dung on their faces.”

Attention Nevada college students: Your tuition is going up again next year.

The Nevada System of Higher Education’s Board of Regents on Friday approved an 8 percent tuition increase for undergraduate students statewide.

Regents and institutional leaders said the permanent tuition hike would help restore some of the multimillion-dollar budget cuts to higher education in recent years.

“States are disinvesting in higher education across the country,” UNLV President Neal Smatresk said. “That’s the direct cause of this...We’re stuck between a rock and a hard place.”

At UNLV, this increase amounts to the fifth year of consecutive double-digit tuition hikes. Tuition rates at UNLV have increased by 73 percent since 2007, outpacing the rate of inflation.

“There’s no excuse for that. How many more increases are we going to have? How much more are we going to gouge students?” UNLV junior Rachel Stephens said during the public comment period.

UNLV undergraduates currently pay $182.25 per credit. Next year, students can expect to pay $191.50 per credit, which includes registration, technology and health fees. Students would still need to account for the cost of books, special course fees and cost of living expenses.

The 12-member board debated for nearly two hours about the tuition increase, mulling over proposals to maintain the current tuition rate or increase it by 5, 8 or 13 percent.

Regents seemed to agree with university presidents that a tuition increase of some kind was necessary to better serve students inside and outside of the classroom. But they did not seriously consider raising tuition by 13 percent.

In several back-and-forth motions, regents voted to delay the vote, but then seemingly changed their minds and at one point approved a 5 percent tuition increase. Eventually, they voted one final time to implement an 8 percent tuition hike, with Regents Cedric Crear, Ron Knecht, Kevin Page and Jack Schofield opposed.

The tuition hike affects only undergraduates. Graduate student tuition was raised by 5 percent this year and will go up another 5 percent next year, under a plan approved by the Legislature over the summer.

Student government leaders urged regents to delay the vote to seek more student input and ensure that whatever programs and services the additional money would go toward won’t be cut in the future.

“We would like to see more guarantees,” said UNLV’s student body President Sarah Saenz. “We want to know exactly where the money is going.”

The 8 percent tuition increase — to be implemented in fall 2012 — comes as tuition rose 13 percent this fall to help bridge an $85 million state budget cut to higher education this biennium.

Regents had proposed earlier this year — during the legislative session — to increase tuition by 13 percent this year and an additional 13 percent next year. The board, however, settled on a “one-time” tuition and fee increase and planned to re-evaluate another tuition increase the following year.

“We were promised it would be a one-time, 13-percent increase,” Saenz said. “It doesn’t seem fair.”

Because the tuition increase is occurring during an off-legislative year, any money generated from the hike would remain on campus, higher education Chancellor Dan Klaich assured the board.

University presidents presented broad plans on how they would use the money and were asked to return in January to present more specific spending plans — considering student and faculty input — during the board’s special meeting in late January.

UNLV plans to use the money in academics and student services, Smatresk said. Hiring additional faculty and staff would help students graduate the system faster, as would restoring counseling and advising services that were decimated over the past several budget cuts, he said.

Instruction is “at a bottleneck,” said Greg Brown, chairman of the UNLV Faculty Senate. Even as UNLV has cut 700 positions since 2007, student enrollment has steadily risen, leading to overcrowded lecture halls.

While student leaders acknowledged the need for more funding to “rebuild” adequate class sizes and student services, they said they would have liked more time to discuss the tuition hike proposals with fellow students.

About a dozen students attended the meeting, in contrast to the hundreds of students who protested tuition hikes in Carson City during the past legislative session.

“We didn’t know about (these proposals) until three weeks ago,” said Aimee Riley, a CSN senior who chairs the Nevada Student Alliance representing all Nevada college students. “We feel that we weren’t included in a decision that affects our lives.”

As a result of the vote, Riley said, she plans to lobby for a nonvoting student position on the board.

Students, university presidents and regents also weighed concerns about how the tuition increase would impact student enrollment and graduation rates. Although Nevada students pay some of the lowest tuition rates in the nation, ensuring the affordability of higher education remains an important priority, despite tuition increases, Smatresk said.

“We’re still affordable, but students are cost-sensitive,” he said. “Every time you raise tuition, students — especially from lower income families — are affected. Students are genuinely feeling the pinch, and I feel for them.”

The 13 percent tuition hike implemented earlier this year has already had an impact on students, Smatresk said. UNLV students are taking fewer hours of classes this year, and the research university recorded a record number of students withdrawing because they couldn’t pay for college, he said.

Norm Bedford, UNLV’s director of financial aid and scholarships, said he is expecting a “moderate spike” in financial aid applications next year after the Board’s decision on Friday.

“Any time we have a tuition increase, there are people on the bubble who now won’t be able to pay,” he said.

Although 15 percent of the new tuition hike will go to financial aid recipients, it won’t be enough to cover all the needy students at UNLV, Bedford said. About 70 percent of UNLV students receive financial aid, he said.

Since the recession hit Las Vegas in 2007, the number of UNLV students applying for financial aid has doubled. UNLV gave a record $240 million in financial aid this year, $100 million more than in 2007, Bedford said.

Earlier this week, a legislative committee approved $150,000 to hire a consultant to study the state's funding formula for higher education.

The formula has been highly criticized by regents, universities, faculty and students for its one-size-fits-all model in which the state collects all tuition dollars and distributes it among its seven higher education institutions — regardless of type of institution and its academic performance.

The tuition raises would not have been necessary at UNLV if the university were able to keep about $14 million in fees collected each year from its non-resident students, Smatresk said.

Student and faculty leaders argue reforming the funding model would help universities avoid future tuition increases. The committee, which is scheduled to present its findings in June, is looking at performance-based funding, whereby colleges with higher graduation rates would receive more funding.

"The funding formula punishes students and makes them taxpayers by collecting and redistributing their tuition," said Brown, UNLV’s faculty senate chairman.

"That’s the core problem," Saenz said. "It’s a long process, but I think it’s important to fix it."

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