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January 25, 2015

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University system: Enough is enough with the budget cuts

History of bearing brunt of budget cuts has regents up in arms

UNLV President Neal Smatresk

UNLV President Neal Smatresk

Milton Glick

Milton Glick

Higher education in Nevada has always felt like a poor relation in a state that seems suspicious of the need for colleges and universities.

Now, with more and deeper budget cuts looming, it is beginning to feel even more threadbare and unloved.

Gov. Jim Gibbons wants the Nevada System of Higher Education to cut another 10 percent from its budget to help the state address its budget crisis.

But enough is enough, higher education officials say.

State spending on higher education has dropped 28 percent from 2007-09, the peak two-year budget, to $954 million in the current budget cycle.

What does that mean for students, teachers and the institutions?

At UNR, among other things, it means you can no longer major in German, even though much research literature in, say, physics, was written in German. Albert Einstein published his theory of relativity, for example, in the Annalen der Physik.

A student can still get a passing knowledge of German in the few remaining classes, but it complicates future academic life if he or she needs more.

“German historically is part of the core of what a university does,” UNR President Milton Glick said.

Like UNR, UNLV has cut only programs and majors on the decline, such as the Marriage and Family Therapy Department and the Center for Health Sciences Research. Students are a large source of budget dollars through tuition and other fees, and cutting big-enrollment programs doesn’t save money.

“You could quickly drive yourself into a death spiral,” UNLV President Neal Smatresk said.

Both institutions have scrimped on other things. Most vacancies go unfilled, administrators double up on jobs, carpenters repair less, custodians clean less. The goal is to avoid laying off tenured faculty, who have the right not to be dismissed without cause.

“A good faculty pays for itself many times over” through the ability to attract federal and other research grants and help recruit other good faculty, Smatresk said. “They’re the geese that lay the golden eggs.”

But because of two recent rounds of budget cuts, and possible sterner cuts when the Legislature convenes in February, Smatresk said, “the faculty are left thinking: ‘We’re not sure Nevada loves us.’ ”

The Board of Regents seems headed for a clash with Gibbons and perhaps the Legislature over budget plans.

In the 2009-11 budget, education spending is about 55 cents of every $1 of the general fund. About 15 cents goes to the university system and nearly 40 cents goes to K-12 education, according to the state budget director’s office.

The state is facing a $3 billion deficit in its $6.5 billion budget for 2011-13, or almost all of the $3.6 billion spent on education.

Gibbons has asked all state agencies to submit 10 percent budget cuts for the 2011-13 budget cycle. But unlike most state agency chiefs, the regents are elected, not appointed by the governor. The board has always regarded itself as an independent steward of higher education.

In seeming defiance of Gibbons’ call for cuts, the regents a week ago voted 11-1 for a nearly 25 percent increase — or $1.19 billion — in state spending for higher education.

The dissenting regent, Ron Knecht of Carson City, said “expecting an increase at this point would be the height of self-absorption.”

Since the 2001-03 budget, spending on higher education has risen nearly 40 percent, according to Jeremy Aguero, an analyst with Applied Analysis of Las Vegas.

With that said, the university system has “clearly borne a disproportionate share of the state’s budget cuts,” Aguero said.

The budget the regents approved, including money from tuition and other fees, will rise just 3 percent to $1.65 billion. The 25 percent increase requested by the regents refers only to the state’s contribution. Nearly $185 million in one-time-only federal stimulus money will be missing in this budget cycle.

Moreover, taking into account inflation and the resulting reduction in the power to buy goods and services, the 3 percent budget increase almost vanishes.

Like Nevada, the university system has grown rapidly. In the past quarter century, enrollment has grown by 2 1/2 times to nearly 114,000 students in 2009.

Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, is sympathetic to university concerns but spoke bluntly.

“If the system is going to collapse, let’s talk about it,” she said.

“The public is not going to support new taxes unless they fully understand the consequences of what budget cuts are going to be.”

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  1. "Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, is sympathetic to university concerns but spoke bluntly."

    "'If the system is going to collapse, let's talk about it,' she said."

    "'The public is not going to support new taxes unless they fully understand the consequences of what budget cuts are going to be.'"

    This exactly what we should be doing instead of burying our heads in the sand the way the Chancellor and Regents did--passing a pie in the sky budget devoid of any recognition of the fiscal realities in Nevada.

  2. Tuition, plus room & board, for a freshman attending UNLV, is around 16,000 dollars.

    HOW MANY ROUNDS of budget cutting should a prospective student, (or paying parents) expect to endure to the product they are paying for before they decide that the PRODUCT IS TOO WATERED DOWN?

    I heard Pat on the PUBLIC AIRWAVES of UNLV the other day claiming, as usual, that it's all a big waste of HIS MONEY...BASHING EDUCATION is a SPORT over there at the big think-tank.
    HEY PAT; when ya roll over down there in your think tank this morning, and turn on your NPRI "supercomputer", plug this into the equation;
    What happens when you DILUTE THE PRODUCT, and then pass it off as THE SAME PRODUCT, and charge the SAME AMOUNT OF DOUGH for it...
    I say you get a WEAKER, INFERIOR PRODUCT, and that you ought to CHARGE LESS. Is that what the NPRI "Big Machine" says???

  3. First, it is not a $3 billion shortfall in a $6.5 billion budget - watch as the Las Vegas Sun (and other media outlets) magically change the story to a $3 billion shortfall when we "need" $8 billion (more money than the state has ever spent in its entire history).

    Second, higher ed in Nevada can cut their budget and provide a better quality education at the same time. UNLV and UNR have seen their budget grow faster than student population and inflation combined - even with the recent budget cuts.

    Yes, state appropriations have fallen (as they have in practically every state) but UNLV and UNR's overall budget has fallen by a hair (less than 10% - and considering the last federal bailout was the exact amount of the last state appropriation cut, maybe not even that).

    Finally, both UNLV and UNR are spending more money per pupil and hiring more people per student. UNLV grew its administrators per 100 students by 90 percent while cutting its instructors by 6.6 percent. UNR grew its administrators twice as much as it did its instructors. Today, UNR employs 1 adult for every 5.9 students making it more bloated than the Clark County School District.

    Even with more dollars and more employees neither school can graduate half its students within 6 years.

  4. and how many physics majors are going to want to learn German? Has the university system heard of something called English translation?

    and with the private sector providing language education far cheaper than our public universities, maybe we should drop the courses.

  5. Really old Vegas,

    Something tells me that you don't think there is a difference in being obese and the weighing in as much as the Titanic.
    Almost all universities continue to employ more people per student, this is a trend that has been going on for some time - now documented by the U.S. government over a 15 year period. There is no reason why this should be the case. First, technological change allows workers to be more productive. Second the marginal cost of each additional student decreases - if you are running an entity that is efficient and productive in the first place.
    You basically want to claim our universities aren't bloated simply because many others are more bloated. This is nonsense. UNR is more bloated that most school districts in Nevada. It is more bloated than it was 20 years ago. Go back far enough and you'll see just how bloated it really is. In the 1950s CCSD had one employee for every 20 students today it is 1 out of 8.

    The answer is, the universities are bloated, and even left wingers agree:

  6. @Patrick

    Das Max-Planck-Institut fur Astrophysik ("MPA") ist eines von ca. 80 eigenstandigen Forschungsinstituten der Max-Planck Gesellschaft. Diese Institute sind vornehmlich der Grundlagenforschung gewidmet. An den meisten Instituten wird auf mehreren verschiedenen Forschungsbereichen, jeweils geleitet von einem "Wissenschaftlichen Mitglied" der Max-Planck Gesellschaft, gearbeitet.Das Institut fur Astrophysik ging aus der gleichnamigen Abteilung am Gottinger MPI fur Physik hervor. Mit dem Umzug nach Munchen im Jahre 1958 wurde dieses erweitert zum MPI fur Physik und Astrophysik mit Heisenberg und Biermann als Direktoren. Die Arbeiten zur theoretischen Astrophysik lieferten grundlegende Erkenntnisse zur Sonnenphysik, Plasmaphysik und Sternstruktur. 1963 wurde das Institut fur extraterrestrische Physik als neues Teilinstitut gegrundet. 1991 erfolgte die Aufteilung in drei eigenstandige Max-Planck-Institute, das MPI fur Physik (MPP), das MPI fur Astrophysik (MPA) und das MPI fur extraterrestrische Physik (MPE).

    Als im Jahre 1979 die Europaische Sudsternwarte (ESO) ihren Hauptsitz von Genf nach dem am nordlichen Stadtrand von Munchen gelegene Garching verlegte, zog auch das MPA (unter seinem zweiten Direktor, Rudolf Kippenhahn) auf das Garchinger Forschungsgelande.

    Das neue Gebaude des MPA, nur 50 m von der ESO entfernt, ist baulich mit dem MPI fur Extraterrestrische Physik (MPE) verbunden. Neben zwei weiteren, grossen Forschungsinstituten der MPG, dem MPI fur Plasmaphysik (IPP) und dem MPI fur Quantenoptik (MPQ), sind auf dem Forschungsgelande mehrere Fakultaten der Technischen Universitat Munchen (TUM) angesiedelt. Derzeit wird das MPA von vier Direktoren , Martin Asplund, Wolfgang Hillebrandt, Rashid Sunyaev und Simon White geleitet, die sich in der Geschatsfuhrung abwechseln (3 Jahresrythmus).

    Max Planck Institut fur Astrophysik, Garching
    Karl-Schwarzschild-Str. 1
    Postfach 1317
    D-85741 Garching, Deutschland

  7. Really old,

    Btw, that was out of 550 public universities... UNR ranked 62nd.

  8. More on this issue:

    interview with Dr. Jay Greene of the University of Arkansas.

  9. Guialera,

    You are paying more and getting less:

    The bulk of the tuition money goes to new ameneties, administrators, then a little to research, very, very, very little makes its way to instruction.

    Instruction is the first thing they threaten to cut and the last thing university leaders want to fund.

  10. @Patrick LOL--suppose I wish to read a technical paper or attent Max Planck after graduating from UNLV or read a paper published by this institute or perhaps converse with a learned colleague at this institute?

  11. oops, I forgot, our German friends at least take the time to learn English.

  12. Take a private course on the German language. How many people fit in that category I imagine? So tell me why should the taxpayers of Nevada subsidize a Physics student so they can take a German language course so they can attend a German speaking conference (when most Germans speak English already). This is a lame excuse.

  13. @Patrick--please stop embarrassing yourself with these silly comments. I know you are trying to make a point, but really, you go too far.

    The difference is you are talking about traning and I am talking about education. Academia, is in part, a dialogue among researchers. Being able to participate in that dialogue is part of the process.

    Your reasoning leads to the conclusion of why should we offer physics courses or another courses for that matter, when the student can take German online and apply to Max Planck or other institution of higher learning in another country on his/her own.

  14. Really Old,

    That isn't an argument. And I do understand how universities work. They take in money, having little pressure to spend resources wisely they devote most of the funds into amenities to attract more dollars (students) and then dump the rest in administrators so existing administrators can relax and or expand their own little empires. Take some time to read the material I've posted. The links cover the issue quite nicely.


    My argument against bloated higher ed is supported by people on both sides of the political spectrum while your argument to support an expensive German language course so 1 percent of 1 percent of 1 percent of Nevadans can attend a physics seminar in German. If that is what you want, I'm sure there are other institutions that can support your desire - Nevada taxpayers shouldn't have to fund that silliness. There are also private courses that teach all sorts of languages - even dead ones - if you really are that interested.

  15. The Dumbing Down of Nevader...
    der, der, der...
    Mission Acccomplished!


    Book on higher ed bloat and waste written by left-wing academics and praised by left-wing (and left of center) notables like Jonathan Kozol, Barbara Ehrenreich and Joeseph Stiglitz

  17. Newcomer,

    Ohio University economist Richard Veddar has found a negative correlation between economic growth and higher ed. This is likely due to the fact that higher ed is eating scarce resources to fund dubious jobs for adults rather than actually educate students.

    Additionally, you can't have it both ways. You (generically, all those defending Nevada's higher education at this point) can't say it creates economic growth whenever you want, and then deny it is about educating people for jobs when its proven UNLV and UNR can hardly educate, let alone graduate, anyone to begin with.

  18. @Patrick:

    "Additionally, you can't have it both ways. You (generically, all those defending Nevada's higher education at this point) can't say it creates economic growth whenever you want, and then deny it is about educating people for jobs when its proven UNLV and UNR can hardly educate, let alone graduate, anyone to begin with."

    What is the definition of the term "hardly education" and where has it been proven?

    Is there a difference in your mind between educating and graduating as student?

  19. If Clinger says we have a $3 billion shortfall in a $6.5 billion budget, suggesting that we will bring in only $3.5 billion in revenue then Clinger is wrong. Flat wrong.

    I've addressed this issue here:

  20. Turri,

    The average for profit university (you know University of Phoenix, etc) graduates 27 percent of its students within 4 years. That is terrible and that is why Congress is hauling out new rules to punish them.

    UNLV graduates just 11 percent
    UNR just 15 percent.

    The 8 year graduation rate at UNLV is 46 percent, I forget it at UNR, but it is not much better.

    As for whether the students are educated. I'm willing to bet most students say they learned far more in their first two years on the job than in 8 years in the classroom... PS, universities never measure how much students learn (they don't want to on principle).

  21. Ksand,

    Nevada uses a baseline budgeting process that assumes inflation and population adjustments plus automatic roll up costs.

    I'll put money on the table and bet that when they come out with their budget figures, they will claim that they need $8 billion or so in order for the state to function. Then with only $5 billion in projected revenue they will claim a $3 billion shortfall and all the media will change how they've presented this story. I may be wrong, but I'm willing to bet I'm right.

    again read this:

  22. Nice try Patrick, but you skipped the educated part or glossed it over. You willingness to be is not evidence.

    Tell me do your estimates include the continuing education crowd? The take a class here or there for professional or personal development?

  23. Graduation rates are calculated by looking at the first-time full time freshman and seeing how many finish after 4 years, 6 years and 8 years.

    It does not include people taking classes for personal reasons or professional development. Those people should be aware of far cheaper alternatives than UNLV and UNR like the Teaching Company

    or that Harvard and MIT now offer free courses (no credits, but who cares).

    As for educated vs. graduated. Some students are educated and never graduate. Some graduate but never are really educated.

    That said, universities do not measure how their students are educated.

    I also stated that Universities claim they exist to help educate a populace and boost economic growth - until you point out they don't graduate a lot of students or graduate students with degrees of questionable value. At which point they talk about educating students or, worse, philosophize about training students how to think (either way you can't measure it thus you can't really claim higher ed boosts economic growth).

  24. "I also stated that Universities claim they exist to help educate a populace and boost economic growth - until you point out they don't graduate a lot of students or graduate students with degrees of questionable value."

    Are you talking about Phoenix or UNLV?

  25. @LKM--

    The problem with the higher education system in this state and elsewhere is that the costs to deliver a decent education have increased at a rate far beyond other costs in the economy. In Nevada, and elsewhere, meeting these costs requires revenues, from the state budget, tuition and grants, etc.

    The problem here especially difficult given the general economy (lower tax revenues) and higher unemployment, etc. When the economy in this state begins to recover it will look different than it did prior to 2007--gaming is in for hard times in Nevada for a lot of reasons.

    The system as it stands today is not sustainable either for the state, taxpayer or the students over the long haul--if this was just another recession, revenues would bounce back in a year or so with the economy. What we are viewing today, in my opinion, are some very deep structural changes to the economy of this state.

    Over the long haul, the higher education system has to solve the cost problem because the revenues will not be there. The number of students with the declining population is another question.

    This means cutting programs and focusing resources in specific areas that are valuable and can be sustained over the long-term by students and taxpayers. It is called retrenchment. Industry does it and so do public institutions.

    The system as it is today wants to be all things to all people. I cannot be going forward. We are making investment decisions. Whatever the system does in the future, it must do it well and do it on a budget.

    The Board of Regents' vote indicates how far removed 11 of 12 Regents are from the long-term challenges facing the system.

  26. Dazed, the 59 percent figure is tuition growth at UNLV from 1993 to 2007. That figure is already adjusted for inflation.

  27. Sorry, that was the budget per pupil, but like I said, it was already adjusted for inflation. An inflation adjusted per pupil budget growth of 59 percent means the budget at UNLV grew faster than inflation and enrollment combined.

  28. Turri,

    From the Max PlanckInstitute regarding their seminars and lectures whether they are done in English or German,

    "Usually in English, the science language."
    Best regards,
    Thomas Janka