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October 24, 2014

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Proposal to raise tuition at UNLV divides regents

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Paul Takahashi

Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Dan Klaich discusses his legislative agenda, including the new funding formula, during a Las Vegas Sun editorial board meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013.

Nevada’s higher education leaders Friday expressed split opinions on the proposed tuition hikes looming over thousands of college students across the state.

Last month, Chancellor Dan Klaich introduced a four-year plan to raise tuition and fees at seven public universities and community colleges across the Silver State. Klaich said these tuition increases are necessary to ensure these institutions’ financial stability in the aftermath of the economic recession.

At UNLV, Klaich proposed raising tuition and fees by 17 percent over four years, starting in fall 2015. If approved, UNLV’s annual tuition for full-time undergraduates would rise from $5,745 in 2013-14 to $6,720 by 2018-19.

Klaich’s proposal was met with fierce opposition from student leaders, who voiced concern about the skyrocketing cost of higher education in Nevada. In the past decade, UNLV’s tuition rate has more than doubled — from $2,370 a year in 2002 to $5,740 in 2012 — outpacing the rate of inflation.

Despite the tuition increases, Nevada’s higher education system remains one of the most affordable in the country, Klaich said. Among 16 Mountain West states, Nevada ranks 10th most expensive, cheaper than public colleges in North and South Dakota.

Still, students pressed the Nevada Board of Regents to analyze previous tuition increases and determine how much of the money was used to support students. They also called on university and college administrators to explain how they hope to spend their tuition dollars, if the hike is approved.

Regents last raised tuition rates in December 2011. They approved an 8 percent tuition increase, over student objections.

At UNLV, that tuition increase amounted to an additional $6.1 million. UNLV President Don Snyder outlined how the money was used:

• $2.6 million of the tuition money went toward hiring 16 faculty members, graduate assistants and 35 part-time instructors.

• $973,000 of the tuition money went toward student financial aid.

• Of the remaining $2.7 million, UNLV spent $1.5 million toward the campus library, IT support, academic advisers and student services. The university hasn’t been able to fill three faculty positions as well as 20 part-time instructors, which explains the spending shortfall, Snyder said.

Snyder, a first-generation college graduate who paid his way through the University of Wyoming, said he can “understand and empathize” with students.

“It’s a tough issue for us to deal with,” Snyder said. “But we have needs to be filled.”

If regents approve the tuition increase, Snyder said UNLV is tentatively planning to use the money to benefit students and faculty. The new president said he spoke with student leaders over the past two weeks to formulate this spending plan:

• New faculty positions: $4.5 million

• Financial aid for students: $4.5 million

• Faculty promotion: $2 million

• Graduate assistant support: $1.75 million

• Library support: $1.25 million

• Academic advisers: $1 million

• Disability resource center support: $250,000

• Math learning center: $250,000

“These are the things that will lead to student success,” Snyder said. “I’m committed to it, and to being held accountable for it.”

After hearing presidents’ proposals, six out of the 13 regents said they have already made up their mind on the tuition matter.

Four regents — Andrea Anderson, Jason Geddes, James Dean Leavitt and Michael Wixom — said they would support the tuition increase. Regents Ron Knecht and Allison Stephens said they would vote against the tuition hike.

Those who supported the tuition increase called it an unsavory but necessary course of action in the aftermath of the Great Recession. Since 2008, Nevada has slashed about a third of its state support to its universities and colleges — the 11th highest cut nationally.

“There were times when we could rely on guaranteed (state budget) increases,” Wixom said. “But those times are over.

“My preference is not to raise tuition and fees. I don’t want to do that,” he continued. “But given the realities we face, this is the proper step forward.”

Geddes called for a continued sense of “shared sacrifice” among students, colleges and the state. He vowed to continue lobbying the Legislature for more funding and push college presidents to run their institutions more efficiently.

“I frankly don’t think (the proposed tuition increase) goes far enough,” Geddes said. “I’d go for 10 percent a year for four years, but I won’t get a second for that.”

For Leavitt, his support for tuition increases comes as his youngest son enters UNR and his oldest son enters graduate school at UNLV. Leavitt said he won’t change his support for tuition increase now that his children are in school.

“I believe students need to pay their fair share,” Leavitt said. “I’m going to support (the proposed tuition increases) for the right reason. My own children are going to benefit from them.”

Some regents, however, weren’t so sure if the tuition increase would actually benefit students.

Regent Cedric Creer and Knecht asked Klaich to provide more information on colleges' spending plans and a comparison of university spending on administration versus student instruction.

Stephens, who voiced her opposition to the tuition hike last month, argued that raising tuition would only cause more students to take on part-time work or more student loans to make ends meet.

“We talk about resource centers and student support,” Stephens said. “But we’re going to increase tuition to pay for these services that students won’t have the time to use. I won’t be supporting this.”

Regents are expected to vote on the tuition proposal in June, when most students will be out on summer break. Although student leaders had lobbied to have regents vote on the proposal this month, Klaich said the board typically schedules two discussion sessions before voting on the tuition proposals.

Klaich added that regents have heard from students throughout the tuition debate and said he was confident students will show up in June to voice their opinions about the tuition increase one last time.

“Students don't just disappear (over the summer),” Klaich said. “We’ll continue to seek student input.”

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