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December 17, 2014

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higher education:

CSN: Budget cuts could force class cancellations

Fewer offerings would come with increasing enrollment

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Mona Shield Payne/Special to the Home News

As Dr. Thill Raghu, professor of philosophy, listens from his seat as CSN President Michael Richards urges faculty and staff to concentrate their time and energy on finding a solution to the budget problems versus long-term employment concerns during the town hall meeting at the CSN Charleston campus Wednesday.

CSN budget cuts

CSN President Michael Richards advises staff and faculty to Launch slideshow »

The College of Southern Nevada will be looking past the governor to the state Legislature to ease the bleeding caused by cuts to the budgets of the state's higher education system, college President Michael Richards said.

Gov. Jim Gibbons is expected to ask the Nevada System of Higher Education during his State of the State address, scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday, to prepare budgets for the next biennium perhaps with a 14 percent reduction in expenses without a tax increase to offset the loss in funding the colleges and universities have already experienced.

For CSN, which plans to close six satellite campuses, that could mean canceling fall classes while expecting the largest enrollment in school history this spring.

Richards spoke to more than 100 teachers and staff members at the Charleston campus on Wednesday in the second of three town hall meetings.

During the next few months, the Legislature will have to craft a budget to fund the eight institutions in the system for the next two years, leaving a lot of questions and uncertainty about the staffing levels and courses offered at CSN, Richards said.

"We're looking beyond to the Legislature to have a number of things more fully considered," he said. "I don't know how deep this is going to go."

Richards' message to his faculty was one of caution and patience during the legislative process, which he compared to a roller coaster ride.

"We're going to have a lot of uphill rides and a lot of downhill rides," he said. "Don't get too anxious about this. It's a very deliberate process."

CSN stands to lose the most in comparison to other schools. It also has the largest student body.

Cutting the budget means reducing the number of classes offered, which in turn generates less tuition revenue, Richards said.

"That cut understates the impact of cuts to NSHE institutions because there is revenue we would not realize," he said. "For our institution, a 14 percent cut is closer to about an 18 or 19 percent expenditure cut."

CSN receives about 75 percent of its operating funds from the state and already cut $10.4 million for the current fiscal year, said Patty Charlton-Dayar, vice president of finance and facilities.

To meet the projected 14 percent cut, CSN would need to trim an additional $18 million from its current $122 million budget.

The college covered most of the loss, partly through a $2.75 per credit surcharge, but further cuts would harm a student body that has grown 12 percent from last spring semester. A total of 30,642 students so far have signed up for the spring semester.

"We've seen this before. When the economy goes bad people return to classes," Charlton-Dayar said. "Students are filling the seats and they're coming in record numbers. We know we have more sections (classes) that are filled at this time than there was last year."

Richards is counting on the Legislature to be more responsive and find solutions to ease the effect of cuts. The Legislature crafts the budget so the schools won't know the final tally until June. Students usually start signing up for fall classes a month earlier though, Richards said.

That means many classes at CSN would be scheduled but blocked out until the college knows which classes it can afford to offer.

As many as half of the 4,000 classes offered could be blocked initially but the true number of canceled courses would be much lower, said Darren Divine, interim vice president of academic affairs.

"Our general principle here has been to build in as much flexibility as we possibly can based on what we know and the timing of some of these things that are going to come to pass," Richards said.

Jeff Pope can be reached at 990-2688 or [email protected].

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