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December 17, 2014

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Legislative panel begins work on higher education funding

CARSON CITY – After the 2011 Legislature heavily slashed the budgets of the universities and the community colleges, a legislative study is under way to see how the state can deal with the needs of higher education.

The Committee to Study Funding of Higher Education set guidelines Tuesday to spend $150,000 to hire a consultant to conduct an extensive survey to look at how other states are meeting the challenge.

The committee will start soliciting bids Wednesday and is scheduled to choose a consultant Jan. 11 to look at the funding formula for higher education.

Due to the turndown in the economy, the system’s $1.1 billion 2009-2011 budget was cut by more than 20 percent for the present biennium.

In addition to this study, Nevada is one of 10 states chosen to take part in a study on how to improve the graduation rates of universities and colleges. That study is funded by a $10 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

State Sen. Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, said this would be a complete analysis of the financing of higher education. The present formula has been used, with minor changes, since 2001.

Alex Haartz, program analyst for the Legislative Fiscal Analysis Division, said the money going to the higher education system distributed by the Legislature this year was based on the availability of the revenue, not on the formula.

“It was time out for the use of the formula,” he said.

The committee will look at how other states fund their university and community colleges systems, their goals and their costs.

Other states will be examined to see how their systems of higher education fit in with its economic development programs. Other universities will be studied to see how their financial aid to students is handled.

The present funding formula is based on the number of students, the courses they are taking, the ratio of instructors and the support staff such as janitors and maintenance personnel that are needed.

The committee plans to consolidate its work with the study being done in 10 other states and the goals of the University Board of Regents.

It wants to have its work done by June 27 to permit the regents to include the recommendations in the proposed 2013-2015 budget. And it would allow the recommendations of the committee to be drafted into bills for introduction at the 2013 Legislature.

The committee was created by a bill sponsored by Sen. John Lee, D-North Las Vegas and called for comparing funding of higher education in Nevada with other states and if changes should be made.

It will consider how student fees are used and determine if there should be changes in how the various schools are financed.

It will look at rewarding schools with higher graduation rates.

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