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August 20, 2014

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higher education:

Funding inequities have no simple fix

Northern Nevada colleges have always received more money than those to the south, but closing the gap in a recession unlikely

Nevada has long been more generous to its northern colleges than to those down south.

The favoritism dates back decades. In May 1962, less than five years after UNLV opened on Maryland Parkway, the Las Vegas Review-Journal ran an editorial saying the state was shortchanging the new school in favor of the University of Nevada, Reno.

According to a book on UNLV history by UNLV professor Eugene Moehring, the newspaper cited statistics to back up its point: Of the $7.18 million state university budget in the 1962-63 fiscal year, UNLV, then called Nevada Southern, got just $445,000 despite accounting for nearly 20 percent of the state’s public university enrollment.

Half a century later, the north-south funding gap still exists and the fight to close it continues.

In January, Jim Rogers, chancellor of Nevada’s public higher education system, issued two public memos decrying disparities, writing that southern colleges had been “treated as stepchildren or poor and unworthy members of the family.”

Before budget cuts, according to Rogers’ first missive, the College of Southern Nevada was to receive $5,057 per full-time-equivalent student from the state general fund this fiscal year, half as much as Elko’s Great Basin College and less, also, than Reno’s Truckee Meadows Community College and Carson City’s Western Nevada College.

UNLV was to receive $9,233 per full-time-equivalent student, compared with UNR’s $11,436. The analysis leaves out some areas that are unusually expensive to operate, such as UNR’s medical school and UNLV’s dental and law schools.

Proponents of more equal funding want to see southern colleges’ budgets grow at a faster pace than their northern counterparts’. Former UNLV President Carol Harter, who led the university for 11 years, said ideally the state Legislature would set a timetable for reaching full equity.

Such goals could remain elusive in the near term. Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, said with the governor proposing a 36 percent cut in higher education funding, finding money for all schools — not addressing inequities between them — is the priority.

Still, a future infusion of cash for southern colleges is not completely out of the question.

With Democrats taking control of the state Senate for the first time in

15 years, the leaders of both houses of the state Legislature now hail from Clark County. Bill Raggio, R-Reno, Senate majority leader from 1993 to 2008, was perceived as a staunch supporter of rural and northern interests.

Sen. Warren Hardy, R-Henderson/Boulder City, and Assemblyman Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, have expressed interest in reexamining how Nevada funds colleges.

Reaching agreement on what “equity” means will be difficult, however.

Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, said while “true inequities” should be addressed, some disparities in funding make sense: “UNR has older buildings and higher maintenance needs, and so they receive more money towards maintenance,” she said. “I don’t personally view that as an inequity.”

Issues that might concern legislators more include differences in the amount of state money schools receive for scholarships — UNLV gets about $200 less for each full-time-equivalent student than UNR, according to numbers UNLV provided.

And although it’s logical for UNR, which has more space, to receive more money for maintenance than UNLV, the disparity in the amount of space the schools have might give lawmakers pause. The state pays to maintain

200 square feet per student at UNR, compared with 108 at UNLV, according to one UNLV analysis.

CSN’s disproportionately low funding is a relic of the 1990s, when budgets for everything from faculty salaries to student services such as counseling failed to keep pace with enrollment growth.

And so the battle to eliminate the inequities will continue, waged by those who represent the shortchanged.

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