Friday, Dec. 2, 2011 | 2:59 p.m.
The Nevada Board of Regents has approved an 8 percent tuition increase for undergraduate students.
The 12-member board voted for the increase Friday afternoon in Las Vegas, turning down proposals to keep the tuition rate steady, or increase it by 5 or 13 percent.
Student government leaders asked the board to hold the tuition rate at $156 per credit or delay the vote.
Undergraduates already had to pay 13 percent more this year as Nevada's unemployment rate tops the nation at 13.4 percent.
The board previously passed a 5 percent tuition hike for graduate students.
Administrators say they need more money to rehire faculty and staff after four years of budget cuts.
Undergraduate registration fees and tuition has increased 73 percent in Nevada since 2007.
University officials voted earlier this year to charge graduate students 5 percent more next year.
Some students have openly opposed the undergraduate tuition increases, saying university leaders should reduce salaries and eliminate unnecessary programs to close budget gaps. But higher education leaders argue that the schools have been operating with trimmed down staffs and services since Nevada's economy began to unravel in 2007. In the latest round of budget cuts, the state Legislature reduced higher education funding by $85 million this year.
University of Nevada, Las Vegas President Neal Smatresk said a 13 percent tuition increase would be too high, but he supports the 8 percent tuition hike because the university wants to rebuild its staff and preserve its most prestigious programs. He said the university must focus on its medical, law, fine arts, business, engineering, sciences and hospitality programs to help Las Vegas create a more diverse work force.
UNLV has lost 700 staff positions since 2007, Smatresk said.
"We spread ourselves thin, and we are not going to do that anymore," he said. "There is no diversified economy here without UNLV. We are the dominant producers of degrees in this state."
Sarah Saenz, UNLV student body president, said many students oppose any fee or tuition increases.
"We, as students, don't want to feel like we are paying more, more and more and we are getting the same education," she said. "The state could always give more money to education. The money shouldn't come from the students."
The annual cost of undergraduate tuition, room, and board in 2010 was roughly $12,804 at public institutions and $32,184 at private institutions, according to the latest Department of Education data. The cost of a college degree jumped 37 percent at public schools over the past decade.
But while national college enrollment was slated to break records in 2011, six of Nevada's seven post-secondary schools saw enrollment losses this fall. The University of Nevada, Reno, for example, estimates a 10 percent drop in doctorate students this year. Undergraduate enrollment at UNLV fell by nearly 4 percent.
Smatresk said the university is reaching out to donors to build its endowment and offer scholarships to worthy, low-income students. But he said he was concerned that any tuition increase will force some of the university's less affluent students to drop out or enroll elsewhere. He said the economy and program cuts have also fueled enrollment losses.
"We don't want to price ourselves out of the market," he said.
Saenz, a senior who expects to graduate without any debt next year, said the academic goals of too many cash-strapped Nevadans are determined by personal finances.
"If another increase happens, enrollment will drop again," she said.