Sunday, July 24, 2011 | 2:01 a.m.
I would like to thank April Corbin for highlighting Nevada’s method of dispersing state dollars to the eight colleges and universities in her Sunday article on lasvegassun.com, “Higher ed funding process siphons money from UNLV” (a version of which is also published on Page 1 today).
Although that article focused thoroughly on how the existing funding formula has shortchanged UNLV, it is difficult to have a meaningful discussion on the funding formula without illuminating the 900-pound gorilla in the room. This funding mechanism presents challenges for all institutions but most significantly puts College of Southern Nevada students at a disadvantage.
In 2003, the Legislature studied the Nevada System of Higher Education funding formula. The resulting report found that “while none of the institutions is wealthy, only CCSN (now CSN) is operating at what is fundamentally a subsistence level.”
Subsequent studies have also confirmed CSN’s lack of appropriate funding for its size and complexity, with $15 million to $26 million necessary to remedy this gap.
To this day, CSN receives the lowest amount of state funding per student in Nevada. Compare us with our peers outside the state and the matter gets worse. Many of those institutions receive county support. So although CSN students will receive $3,501.42 in support from Nevada this biennium, students attending one of our national peers received an average of $7,014 in funding from state and local government, according to the most recent federal data available.
This is because CSN experienced unprecedented growth in the 1990s and state funding did not keep pace. CSN’s budget fell far behind what is necessary to operate and despite improvements to the funding formula, no mechanism was put in place to remedy this gap. With more than 41,000 students, CSN’s budget gap continues to grow.
What this means for students is that CSN has fewer dollars than other colleges and universities to pay for services such as counselors, advisers, tutors and other support crucial to student success, retention and completion.
With no ethnic majority, CSN is the most diverse institution in the state. As one examines CSN’s student demographics in the context of this funding gap, the issue is far bigger than north versus south. CSN’s chronic underfunding means the many minority, first-generation college and low-income students at CSN receive less support from the state to enroll and get through college than others.
In 2008, Chancellor Dan Klaich and I authored a memorandum to the Board of Regents describing CSN’s funding inequity and jointly supporting efforts to seek additional resources to fix this, a little at a time. The regents and legislators have recognized the deficit and supported this initiative. In the 2009 and 2011 legislative sessions, lawmakers allocated several million dollars toward CSN’s equity problem, but a long-term remedy is still far off.
Continued support for CSN funding will ensure the college’s students receive a fair shake and that their playing field is on the same level as their peers’ in Nevada and other states. The central role CSN plays in providing access to postsecondary education for all students in Southern Nevada makes funding equity a major issue in these economic times when more Nevadans will need the opportunities CSN provides.
I would like to emphasize that this issue is not about asking for more state funding (although I could write another letter on that issue), it is about equitable distribution. As policymakers work to address this problem, we should openly discuss how we want to fund all of our colleges and universities in a way that reflects our statewide goals.
Michael D. Richards is president of the College of Southern Nevada.