In the upcoming session, Nevada legislators will be looking at the way the state's colleges and universities are funded. What improvements are you looking for?
For many years, the funding formula has been skewed, putting significantly more money per student into some of our community colleges and into UNR than into UNLV. In addition, the old funding method collected tuition and partially collected fees from all the colleges and universities, filtered them through the formula, and then redistributed them to the system institutions. In this transaction, UNLV lost between $14 million and $18 million a year of our out-of-state tuition to the other state institutions.
In the last year, a new proposal for funding has been developed by (Nevada System of Higher Education) Chancellor Dan Klaich, the president at each institution, the Board of Regents, and the legislative Interim Studies Committee on Higher Education Funding. It does three key things.
First, it separates once and for all tuition from state general funds, which means our students can be assured that the dollars they contribute to the campus will stay on their campus.
Second, it will distribute funds to campuses equitably based around the mission of the institution. It recognizes, to some extent, the value of bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees and that it costs more to deliver those programs than two-year programs. With more adequate funding for high-cost disciplines such as nursing, engineering, and science, we can expand our capacity to produce graduates in those areas.
Third, the new formula will add a performance funding component that will make institutions accountable for outcomes -- such as success in graduating students -- thus providing an incentive to do even better.
So the good news is that, after years of a formula that has been tweaked and gamed to the point that it was hopelessly broken, the current proposal offers a straightforward approach that is fair for everyone.
Does the proposal fix UNLV's budget issues?
While the new formula is fair -- it will correct the imbalance between institutions in the North and in the South -- it does not address the adequacy of funding overall. In other words, it will not provide enough for us to produce the graduates our region needs -- particularly in critical workforce areas in technology-based disciplines and health care.
This issue is particularly felt in Southern Nevada, the economic engine of this state. In order to stimulate growth in new economies while keeping our base industry healthy, Las Vegas needs more graduates. The more we produce, the greater the capacity our region will have to stimulate the economy and attract industry.
Related to this is the "Knowledge Fund." This fund was created, but not funded, in the last session to stimulate economic development by providing money for academic research that shows great potential for commercialization. Neighboring states like Utah and Arizona have made huge investments to build their economy and increase the number of highly educated citizens in their states, but Nevada has not yet committed any long-term funding for this. I believe for us to really gain traction on Knowledge Fund initiatives, we'll need to see major commitments beyond an initial two years of funding.
Do you expect challenges to the proposed formula?
The proposed formula was approved with virtual unanimity, but that doesn't mean everyone's happy about it. It is a bitter pill for some of the institutions to swallow. Some people are looking at it as a $14 million takeaway from the North to give to the South. That's true in that some institutions will be getting a smaller percentage of the pot than they used to -- but UNLV and CSN in particular have been on the short end of that stick for years and years. If this new funding approach is approved, every institution will receives a fair share per student, based on its mission.
I also expect some spirited discussions to focus on performance funding aspects of the formula. I do not believe the current approach adequately addresses the high value of master's and Ph.D. graduates, which is a critical element for research institutions.
While I anticipate that this proposal will be contested in the legislative session, I believe that the principles behind the formula -- fairness and transparency -- will win the day.
Are there any other challenges you hope to see addressed for higher education funding in this session?
For four years our faculty and staff have not only had no raises, but their salaries have been cut by 4.7 percent and their medical benefits deductible has risen dramatically. The higher education marketplace is extremely competitive, and these cuts have resulted in the loss of some of our best faculty to other states. We need to roll back the cuts and get a better health plan in order to retain and compete for the best and brightest.
While I am on the topic, I would like to thank the great faculty and staff who have committed their careers to UNLV and stayed through this fiscal crisis. Our institution has come a long way because of their talents and belief in UNLV; now it's time to show them that Nevada values their contributions.
What is the one thing you most hope to achieve this year at the session?
More than anything, I hope to see a real shift in how the state views higher education. I hope everyone looks at higher education as the engine of our economy, and as an investment, rather than a cost. Our most recent economic impact study indicates that UNLV has a $1.5 billion economic impact on our region. That's a return of more than $8 for every $1 the state invests in us.
We also bring in between $300 million and $400 million from out-of-state sources. This comes from out-of-state students, our athletic and entertainment activities, and the federal grants and contracts our researchers attract. So investing in UNLV grows our economy, creates jobs, and improves the lives of everyone in Nevada.
This coming year we need our alumni and supporters to share this message with our lawmakers and let them know that we cannot have a great state without a strong UNLV. UNLV is committed to being a great partner to Clark County and Las Vegas, and together we can build a prosperous future.