Revamp of NSHE funding means chance to change higher ed for good

28 Feb 2012 9:47 AM | Anonymous
The formulas used to fund Nevada System of Higher Education institutions are undergoing an overhaul that represents a chance for state and education officials to make a significant positive impact on Nevada’s colleges and universities.

The current formulas, developed more than 10 years ago by a legislative interim committee established during the 1999 Nevada legislature, have been used for four biennia to distribute available funding. The dramatic downturn in NSHE funding over the past two biennia resulted in a suspension of the funding formulas for the past two legislative sessions. There have been many calls for the formulas to be revamped or abandoned, with claims that they were outmoded and unfairly distributed funds throughout the rapidly growing system.

One frequent critique of the formulas is the practice of counting tuition and fee moneys against the amount of funds due to institutions from the state. And out-of-state tuition funds were kept by the State, a process that harmed institutions such as the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, which has high out-of-state enrollment.

NSHE officials have called for a study of new funding formulas in past legislative sessions, but this proposal did not gain traction until the 2011 session. The legislature passed a bill establishing a new interim committee to examine funding formulas and other policies, such as allowing institutions to retain their tuition and fee moneys, and seeking local funding for community colleges. (In most states, some local funding is furnished to such colleges.)

Greg Brown, NFA president, says, “Faculty across the state believe this process represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reorient how the state assesses its investment in higher education. The old formula, clearly, is no longer viable, and we are on the path to something new. The formula can no longer be a rigid and incomprehensible black box that serves political purposes.”

He adds that the NFA hopes the next formula will bring about these specific changes: greater transparency and credibility for the System; fairness for students, whom the state in the past has treated as tax-payers; and a focus on educational attainment rather than raw enrollment.

“We look to the committee to develop a formula by which each campus, which has a distinct mission in our multi-tiered system, can represent accurately and transparently the real cost of fulfilling that mission,” Brown says. “The formula, above all, must provide a flexible platform for us to expand degree completion and expand academic rigor.”

The interim committee, established a few months ago, has met several times. At a January meeting, Chancellor Dan Klaich presented a possible way forward that would involve NSHE budget staff developing funding scenarios for the committee to consider.

Klaich says, “The current formula approach lacks credibility primarily due to two reasons: the widespread perception of unfairness and the complexity that leaves few people understanding what it is and does.” His goal is to look to other state models for best practices, construct something reasonable, simple and comprehensible by all, and fundamentally fair to all institutions – an incredibly difficult task, he says, particularly given recent severe budgets cuts.

The interim committee and NSHE are currently working out details of the Klaich’s proposal. It included some bold concepts such as 1. allowing institutions to retain their tuition and fees, thus giving incentive to student recruitment; 2. focusing on completed degrees and courses rather than initial enrollments; 3. including for the first time some element that would help fund research at the two research universities; 4. a significant element of performance funding that would reward accomplishment of goals set by regents to mesh institutional efforts with State of Nevada’s economic development goals; and 5. efforts to graduate students from underserved groups.

The Alliance Editor Jim Richardson, who served on the 1999 formula study committee, appointed by Governor Guinn to represent the faculty, says that, as with any new proposal, the devil is in the details. Representatives of NSHE institutions are eagerly awaiting the specifics of the chancellor’s budget team to see how they will be affected.

Brown says, “As part of the process, to ensure that the focus on course and degree completion is matched by a focus on academic rigor and course quality, faculty leaders suggested to the Chancellor a working group of faculty to help identify measures of degree quality that can be incorporated into the performance-based funding portion of the formula. This group has recently been appointed and will begin work very soon.”

Scott Huber, NFA past president, notes Nevada has a significant and growing number of students who benefit greatly by attending community colleges. “The community college experience represents an important academic and financially available first step for these students need as they work towards becoming Nevada's next generation of skilled workers,” he says. “We are hopeful the funding study recognizes the important role community colleges fulfill.”

Angela Brommel, NFA vice president, says she believes the ideal funding formula will align the mission of Nevada State College and other NSHE institutions with regional and statewide economic objectives. “NSC has been successful under the existing formula in educating and launching graduates into the workforce,” Brommel says. “We anticipate that the new funding formula will advance the college’s mission to a greater degree.”

“A real problem is dramatic cuts in funding for NHSE institutions,” Richardson says. “We all hope State leaders will realize that an adequately funded system of higher education is essential for the well-being of its citizens and for the economic health of the State. Having new formulas will not help much is Nevada does not step up to the plate and face the funding needs of NSHE institutions.”

The interim committee includes twelve members: three state senators, three Assembly representatives, three regents and three appointees of the governor. There are also four non-voting members appointed by the governor, three of which are from NSHE institutions, and one from the state budget office.

The interim committee members are Senator Steven Horsford, Chair; Senators Ben Kieckhefer and David Parks; Assembly Members Debbie Smith, Pat Hickey, and Paul Aizley; NSHE Regents Jason Geddes, Kevin Page and Mike Wixom; and governor appointees Heidi Gansert, Mike Dillon and Hugh Anderson. The non-voting members are Julia Teska, of the state budget office; Mike Richards, CSN president; Greg Mosier, UNR College of Business dean; and Spencer Stewart, NSC associate vice president of college relations.