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Issue Brief: Budget Crisis Facing UNLV

February 16, 2010

Overview

UNLV and the Nevada System of Higher Education are in the midst of a crisis that has reached historic proportions. The Nevada Legislature is holding a special session on Feb. 23 to determine how to address a nearly $900 million current statewide budget shortfall.

Among the options being considered is a potential 12 to 22 percent reduction to UNLV’s funding, which could include mandatory salary reductions. This would be on top of a 24 percent budget reduction already taken over the past 2.5 years. If cuts are implemented at this level the cumulative cut could be as high as 42.3 percent. UNLV would be forced to find the additional budget reductions by March 1 and these cuts would continue into the second year of the biennium. It is important to note that we cannot find any evidence that reductions of this magnitude over such a short period of time have ever occurred in the post-World War II history of public higher education in the nation.

Reductions at these drastic levels will irreparably harm higher education in Nevada for decades. These cuts will result in the elimination of many more class sections, layoffs of faculty and staff, reduction or elimination of critical education research programs, increases in student fees, and denial of access to thousands of qualified students wanting to pursue their higher education dreams. Moreover, these cuts will severely and negatively impact the value of degrees already conferred on thousands of graduates.

Additionally, the promise and expectation that UNLV can help the state diversify its economic base for the future (something research shows us has been accomplished with similar institutions in urban areas around the country) will be lost for at least a generation.

We all must realize that there is no easy or immediate way to make cuts to this extent, nor is there any way to fully mitigate the impacts. Simply put, budget cuts of this magnitude are not something from which we will recover.

An Investment in Nevada’s Future

Imagine the state of Nevada without UNLV or a sound higher education system. As the state’s major public university, UNLV offers a high-quality educational experience for all Nevadans. The best students want this kind of experience. If they can’t find it in Nevada, they’ll seek it in other states and many won’t return.

At the same time UNLV has faced the previous cuts, we also experienced enrollment growth and now serve almost 29,000 students. This has not been without added burden as we have called upon our faculty and staff to go above and beyond to serve our students — asking university employees to take on more work to ensure that quality education for our students is not compromised.

The current recession has brought more Nevada students into the higher education system and these cuts will deny them access and derail their goals. Our state consistently places near the bottom of every national ranking. Funding for higher education is the solution to our state’s problems — not the problem itself. Investing in higher education provides direct and tangible benefits to the local community. These benefits include:

  • Work Force Preparation — UNLV is the primary source of diversified and highly educated workers for Nevada.
  • Problem Solving for the Community, State, and Region — UNLV is a leader in providing a practical education relevant to the needs of the region, which is a priority for the future of Nevada.
  • Economic Impact — UNLV has a positive impact on the economy and brings in hundreds of millions of outside dollars through grants, contracts, and private donations, which can leverage state dollars.
  • Economic Diversification — Universities such as UNLV are the key to economic development because they expand and retain existing businesses and attract new industries seeking talented workers.

What has UNLV Already Done to Help Itself?

UNLV has been working — since long before the current economic downturn — to prioritize its programs and to reallocate funds among those programs in an effort to create as much efficiency as possible. The cost-saving measures the university has already implemented have not been without pain, but UNLV understands its responsibility to be a good steward of state funds. Steps already taken include:

  • Suspending or eliminating low-yield programs.
  • Utilizing energy-saving measures, including establishing a turf-reduction program, lowering electrical and natural gas consumption, and moving to a “paperless” environment.
  • Implementing hiring restrictions on open faculty and staff positions and offering voluntary separation incentives resulting in:
  • A 10 percent cut in full-time faculty (nearly 100 faculty positions have already been eliminated)
  • A 25 percent cut in part-time faculty (resulting in 1,000 fewer class sections)
  • A loss of more than 260 professional and clerical staff positions (either held vacant or eliminated).
  • Increased faculty and staff workloads in an effort to help the university through this difficult time. This is not sustainable — if relief is not soon found in this area, we will lose our best faculty and staff members.

Major Points to be Made

UNLV has identified several key points to be made when discussing this issue with Nevada legislators:

  • Limit the cuts to the higher education budget. Higher education has already taken the brunt of cuts, and we simply ask that legislators come forward with a reasonable and balanced response to this crisis that shares the burden evenly among state agencies.
  • A viable higher education system plays a critical role in the state’s economic future — providing an educated workforce needed to build a diversified business climate across the state. Funding higher education — in particular the two major research universities — will positively impact the state’s economy.
  • The university we have today may be gone. It has taken UNLV 50-plus years to become the nationally recognized university it is today. If cuts at these levels go forward, they could negate these hard-won achievements.
  • NSHE needs to do its part by evaluating the priorities and organizational structure of the higher education system.
  • Allow UNLV to keep increases from out-of-state tuition and students’ registration fees rather than following the current practice of depositing those increases into the state general fund.

How Can You Help?

We need your help to stop or diminish budget cuts. You can share the UNLV story with your friends, neighbors, community leaders, and, most importantly, with legislators. Specifically, we encourage you to:

  • Write to Your Legislators — UNLV has established a website with the latest information on the budget and the impacts cuts will have on the institution. The website includes a resource page to help you find your legislators as well as talking points and additional resources to help educate you on this important issue facing our university.
  • Talk With Friends and Colleagues — Each of us will be affected if these budget cuts are implemented at or near the proposed levels. By sharing your concerns with friends, neighbors, business associates, and community leaders, we broaden the outreach on this issue.
  • Contact Board of Regents Members — These leaders of the Nevada System of Higher Education play a critical role in affecting the outcome of higher education funding in Nevada. View a complete listing of the members of the board.