NFA Board member Sondra Cosgrove, College of Southern Nevada, filed this report from yesterday's budget hearing in Carson City.
On Tuesday, March 22, the joint Assembly Ways and Means and Senate Higher Education Committee met to discuss the state allocation to Nevada's System of Higher Education. Legislators pushed System Chancellor Dan Klaich to provide fuller detail about the System's plans to cut $162 million as proposed by Governor Sandoval. The subcommittee members asked Klaich to provide additional information about the impact on students by prioritizing instructional budgets, which include most faculty positions, over administrative costs and other non-instructional budget lines.
Although the Board of Regents has constitutional authority over the System, the legislature determines the funding for each campus and other NSHE entities.
The meeting began with Chair Steven Horsford stating his appreciation for the students, faculty, and community members who visited the legislature Monday, March 21, to express concerns over higher education budget cuts.
Senator Horsford began by asking NSHE Chancellor Dan Klaich if the Board of Regents had decided to take mergers and closures of campuses and sites off the table for budget cuts at the March 11 meeting. Chancellor Klaich affirmed. Institution presidents then provided a summary of their presentations
from the Regents meeting on how each institution would handle budget reductions if the governor’s budget passed without change.
The presidents of UNLV and UNR presented specific academic programs that would be cut, including the exact number of faculty and staff to cut and the number of students affected. The colleges, which have different financial structures, focused on reducing access for students rather than eliminating programs.
The System did not have a complete template available for the hearing to demonstrate the full impact of the Governor's budget. Some committee members wanted to know why there was a different emphasis between the two types of institutions. Assemblyman Marcus Conklin explained that, in general, the universities provide complete degree programs, while the community colleges provide core classes, certificates and other workforce-related services. After this explanation, all the presidents affirmed that their institutions were undergoing program/curricular review to be sure that duplication of programs and other services is eliminated when possible.
Senator Horsford questioned the wisdom of reviewing programs before discussing workforce needs with the business community and before the Governor’s office has presented an economic development plan. Assemblyman Paul Aizley and Chancellor Klaich both emphasized that the Governor’s office and the legislature need to communicate the state economic development plan to NSHE officials and be ready to fund higher education sufficiently to accommodate those plans.
Committee members questioned why the budget plans presented did not reduce NSHE’s budget to the level of cuts required by the Governor’s budget. They also wanted to know why mergers and closures had been taken out of the plans at the last Regents meeting if doing so made it impossible for NSHE to meet the Governor’s cuts.
Committee members were also noticeably concerned about how students would be hurt, whether by eliminating programs at the universities or cutting class sections at the community colleges. Committee members asked Chancellor Klaich to ensure that the System was doing everything it could to move funding from non-instructional areas to academic budgets. Senator Horsford asked Chancellor Klaich to provide a budget reduction template that each institution can complete to show how much money is being allocated to funding in comparable areas.
At the end of the meeting, Senator Horsford asked Chancellor Klaich to prepare a report due by April 5. First, the System Office needs to use a template for budget cutting for all institutions that shows the true amount that will need to be cut under the Governor’s budget. This must include mergers and closures. Second, the System Office needs to provide a report on reforms that will divert more funding to instruction; streamlining administrative costs is one area to be addressed. Third, the System needs to create a budget report that prioritizes all state funding in the NSHE budget, including non-instructional budgets such as inter-collegiate athletics, statewide programs and the University Press.
At the end of the meeting, Board of Regents Chair James Dean Leavitt asked that legislators send a clear message on what Nevada values as a state. And he asked that they devote equivalent time to examining how to raise revenues as they have for cutting budgets.
NFA lobbyist Jim Richardson testified that it was demoralizing for faculty to hear from the Governor that the education system in Nevada has failed. He pointed out that Utah employs two times as many faculty at its public higher education institutions than Nevada, despite the fact that Utah has a population only 100,000 people greater than Nevada.