Statistics are valuable tools used by scientists, economists and businessmen, among others. These groups use data to clarify and reveal trends and standings, to make projections, to measure how efficient or how far off the norm a certain parameter is. Thus, a practitioner is able to state pretty accurately whether his or her research interest is near the mean, achieves a certain percentile or is within variance of the top as compared to other similar parameters. When used appropriately, statistical values provide a clearer more concise understanding. That has value.
A problem with statistics, however, is the misuse of them for political purposes. Those bent on political persuasion too often selectively lift statistics out of context in order to serve their argument. This effectively clouds rather than clarifies, and of course, that is the intent of the misuse. That’s the first rub.
The second rub is that statistics tend to sanitize situations. Figures cannot accurately represent situations as felt by the parties they represent. They are bombs released at 30,000 feet that do not accurately portray the situation on the ground.
Therefore, whenever statistics concerning the status of Nevada’s colleges and universities are used, particularly where funding is ranked against other systems around the country, I am reminded that the real story is likely not being represented clearly, or understood accurately.
Statistics aside, here is what is really going on in the Nevada System of Higher Education today:
Virtually every faculty member who has relocated to Nevada in the past 10 years has a home mortgage that is underwater. These junior faculty represent the future of higher education in Nevada. They are caught in a no-win situation of diminished salaries, a bankrupted health care plan and a state government that doesn’t care that they are forced to moonlight in second jobs or use personal savings to get by each month. By comparison, and equally disturbing, senior faculty are calculating to the month when they can escape through retirement. We see recently retired colleagues, many of who gave their entire professional lives to Nevada, being forced to shop through outsourced health plans that are inadequate or disingenuous in their benefits. Our administrators are exhausted and burning out, because they have been forced to assume responsibility for two and three administrative positions that they know they cannot manage adequately. Our institutional presidents are harried by the fact they are cutting worthwhile programs, classes and staff to meet diminishing budgets, and we have a chancellor who is awake at night trying to plan for a downsized NSHE, when in fact he knows he should be enhancing NSHE to meet the demand in the years ahead. Finally we have students who are justifiably frustrated because their career choices, supporting programs and classes are gone, likely never to return. The question for them is whether to stay and attempt to be a contributing member of Nevada’s workforce, or leave the state for good.
Statistics that are deployed to mask this state of affairs serve no meaningful purpose, nor do they reflect the reality in our classrooms, on our campuses and in our System office.
It took a generation to create a fine system of higher education in Nevada and two bienniums to degrade it by a third. Without a viable and adequately funded system of higher education, a diversified economy is absolutely not going to happen in our state. No statistics are needed to support these two facts.