NSHE budget hearing poses more questions than answers

04 Mar 2011 3:39 PM | Anonymous
Senator Horsford chaired yesterday’s joint meeting of the Higher Education subcommittees of the Senate Finance and Assembly Ways & Means committees. The hearing focused on major issues confronting NSHE and the Legislature as this crucial budget is dealt with.

Chancellor Klaich’s opening statement stressed that the Executive Budget from the Governor would force dramatic changes in NSHE, erode the breadth and quality of our programs, and limit access for many students. Klaich indicated that there would be entire communities in rural areas with no access to higher education accept for distance ed courses.

The committee discussed the Governor’s proposal to shift property tax revenues from the counties to the two universities, which Senator Horsford worried would cost jobs that would be funded through the two counties. He asked if some of the proceeds could also be shared with the colleges. Most importantly, he asked (but got no real answer) why the Governor did not ask all counties to participate in this particular “shared sacrifice”?

Although he stressed that the Board had taken no position, the Chancellor expressedhis opinion that if taxes were diverted from any one county, they should be diverted from all, as the System serves the entire state. He also expressed his opinion that any funds should benefit all teaching institutions in the same way as federal ARRA fund did.

There also was much discussion of the allocation of money in the NSHE budget, given that NSHE used current enrollments instead of a legislative-directed use of the three-year rolling average. Klaich made the point that the three-year rolling average would have resulted in a distorted budget that would still be dramatically underfunded under the Governor's proposal, resulting in major cuts to NSHE institutions either way. Senator Horsford asked for a revised budget using the three-year average, and the Chancellor agreed to furnish that information.

The use of current enrollments rather than three-year rolling averages has been criticized by some who believe it undercounts enrollment at the rapidly growing community colleges, especially CSN. The Chancellor responded that using the three year rolling average would result in enrollment projections for community colleges that would be unattainable and unreasonable, since the rapid growth is unlikely to continue, given the scarcity of resources.

Questions were asked about how salaries in NSHE compare to other institutions and whether NSHE institutions are losing some of their best faculty. (The NFA has addressed that question at length in previous postings.)

Presidents from DRI, UNLV and UNR spoke to this issue, agreeing that our salaries are regionally competitive, but that we hire in a national and international market, that we are losing ground rapidly and that some top faculty are leaving or looking for other jobs.

The three areas where some significant policy changes have been proposed by NSHE were also discussed, but it was unclear whether there was support from them among the legislators on the two subcommittees.

These issues are 1. the retention of tuition and fees by each campus (without this money being reduced from its State General fund allocation); 2. allowing NSHE institutions to retain unspent general fund dollars at the end of a fiscal year; and 3. flexibility to allow moving funds from one budget category to another during this time of crisis.

The WUE program, whereby residents of some counties close to Nevada get a price break on tuition, came under heavy scrutiny. Some made claims made that this program was costing us millions, since those students pay only 150 percent of resident fees, instead of the full non-resident tuition (which is considerably higher). This issue will have to be addressed by the regents because it has become a focus of concern by some legislators.