Posts Tagged ‘higher education’

Nevada Selected For Policy Academy To Improve Higher Education Performance Measures

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 5:00 pm October 17th, 2011

CARSON CITY – The National Governors Association (NGA) announced today  that Nevada has been selected as one of six states to participate in a Policy Academy on strengthening post-secondary education performance measures.

The NGA defines a Policy Academy as a highly interactive, team-based process for helping a select number of states develop and implement an action plan to address a complex public policy issue.

In announcing the project, the NGA said: “States must have a strategy for getting more career-ready graduates for the dollars they have, and the NGA Policy Academy will focus on helping states build that strategy.”

Photo courtesy of UNLV.

“Having good performance metrics is important, but it is not enough,” said Dane Linn, director of the NGA Center for Best Practice’s Education Division. “Governors and other policymakers must be equipped to use performance measures, whether in developing budgets, approving or evaluating programs or deciding how or whether to regulate administrative and academic services. This Policy Academy will help states focus on those measures.”

Gov. Brian Sandoval said: “Nevada is diligently working to improve accountability systems and measures throughout the K-12 system and this Policy Academy will enable us to expand that work through the higher education realm.”.

The work will complement the Legislature’s interim funding study, he said.

“As always, higher education’s goals have been focused on continuous improvement in how we educate our students and how we help Nevada’s economy prosper,” said Dan Klaich, chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education. “I’m excited we were selected for the Complete to Compete Initiative and I am looking forward to working with the governor and representatives of the Legislature to define accountability metrics that will support our ongoing initiatives related to student success and effectiveness and efficiency.”

NSHE Chancellor Dan Klaich.

The NGA Policy Academy is aimed at improving post-secondary education accountability systems and consists of two workshops, technical assistance from NGA Center staff, and grants of up to $30,000 per state for additional expertise.

The academy is designed to help states strengthen their post-secondary education systems by focusing on efficiency and effectiveness metrics in their accountability systems and incorporating those metrics into their decision making processes.

The NGA Center will help selected states in their efforts to review and revamp their existing state post-secondary accountability system. States will also work with the NGA Center to identify ways to use efficiency and effectiveness metrics as part of the state’s higher education policy agenda.

Funding for the academy is provided by the Lumina Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Nevada’s governor-appointed state team consists of: Heidi Gansert, chief of staff to Sandoval; Julia Teska, a budget analyst from the Department of Administration; Denice Miller, vice president of government relations, MGM Resorts International; Assemblyman Marcus Conklin, D-Las Vegas; Klaich; and Neal Smatresk, president of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Budget Office Says Democratic Spending Plan Nearly $1 Billion Over Sandoval Budget

By Andrew Doughman | 3:56 pm May 23rd, 2011

CARSON CITY — Legislative Democrats intend to spend almost $1 billion more than Gov. Brian Sandoval requested in his $6.3 billion budget, according to a spreadsheet obtained from Gov. Brian Sandoval’s budget office today.

The majority of the $968 million in spending replaces budget cuts in K-12 education, higher education and social services, which Democrats have long argued will eviscerate the state’s social safety net and destroy the state’s education system.

Throughout the past few weeks, the Legislature’s money committees have closed various state budgets, sometimes at levels higher than the governor recommended in his general fund budget. They finished that process this past Thursday and staff reviewed the numbers this weekend.

The majority of the expenditures come from $626 million in the K-12 budget, $205 million in higher education and $121 million for health and human services.

Democrats plan to pay for their budget with a $1.2 billion combination of extending 2009 tax increases, a business “margin” tax and transaction tax on services.

Extending the 2009 taxes would secure $626 million in funding for the Democratic budget plan, $342 million less than legislators would like to spend.

Since extending the taxes appears to be the most likely to pass, legislators may have to whittle away at their additions to the governor’s budget. They have scheduled a meeting tomorrow during which they intend to “reconsider” some of their earlier budget add backs.

Republicans and Sandoval have so far opposed the plan, and Democrats need at least several Republicans to join them to create a two-thirds majority to override a Sandoval veto of any tax plan.

Republican legislators on the Senate and Assembly’s money committees have also largely voted against the additions to the budget.

“Between Thursday and Monday, they [Democrats] realized they closed a budget that is totally unrealistic,” said Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno.

Kieckhefer had also requested the full expenditure list from the governor’s budget office. The $968 million number has not yet been finalized.

Representatives from the office of Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, declined to comment since they have not had time to review the governor’s numbers.

 

 

Lawmakers Show Another Party-Line Split On Sandoval’s Urban County Property Tax Shift For Higher Education

By Sean Whaley | 2:17 pm May 7th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Members of the Legislature’s two money committees reviewed Gov. Brian Sandoval’s proposed budget for higher education today in preparation for making final decisions on how to fund the state’s public university system for the next two years.

Members of the Assembly Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees reviewed a 20-page document setting out alternatives to Sandoval’s budget, which would reduce state support to the Nevada System of Higher Education by $162 million.

The document was initially made public, then withdrawn when legislative staff said the information was not intended to be released. The information was later provided by a lobbyist electronically and posted by political commentator Jon Ralston.

It shows various options that will likely generate partisan votes by the money committees when they do take final action on the higher education budget. But one element of a funding plan, implementing higher student fees, may see broader support.

Students could see a 13 percent  per credit hour “surcharge” as part of the funding plan, raising the nearly $157 charged for university undergraduate courses now to $200 by 2013, a 27 percent increase. Fees for other levels of courses would rise by the same percentages.

But it was a proposal by Sandoval to divert nine cents of property tax from Clark and Washoe counties to help support the state’s two universities that produced the most spirited debate of the session. The transfer would put $120 million in local revenue into the two institutions. The rationale from Sandoval is that Clark and Washoe counties derive an economic benefit in having the institutions house in their communities.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, said it should be all or none. Either all 17 counties should be asked to contribute local property tax to higher education or none should, he said.

Asking for a motion, Democrats on the two committees voted to oppose Sandoval’s recommendation of shifting money only from Clark and Washoe. Republicans supported the governor.

The vote created another hole in the Sandoval budget following votes earlier this week to add nearly $700 million in funding to public education by the same two panels. Those votes were party line as well with Republicans opposed.

Horsford said it is an issue of fairness.

“I for the life of me don’t understand how only two counties are responsible for having to fill the budget hole of the higher education system which is a benefit of all Nevadans and all counties,” he said.

“It’s either all in or none,” Horsford said.

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, said he does see the logic of the Sandoval plan because of the economic benefit to Clark and Washoe counties from the presence of the two universities, but added he would be willing to consider applying the tax shift to all counties.

That proposal did not get much support from rural lawmakers, however.

“I guess the problem I have; in several of the rural counties that I represent are just really close to going bankrupt,” said Sen. Dean Rhoads, R-Tuscarora. “And if that happens the state is going to have to take them over of course. White Pine County and some of those other counties are really hurting.”

Horsford replied that some other rural counties have huge reserves.

“Clark and Washoe counties are not doing all that great either,” he said.

Assemblyman Tom Grady, R-Yerington, said some rural counties are at the maximum property tax levy allowed by law and could not afford the shift.

“Where do the counties get the money to not only pay this but the other things that we’re looking at pushing down to them when they can’t raise their tax if they wanted to because of the cap,” he asked.

Assemblyman David Bobzien, D-Reno, said Washoe County is at the tax cap as well.

Assemblyman Marcus Conklin, D-Las Vegas, said the property tax shift is being proposed because Nevada is “cheap.”

“We’ve been stuck in a paradigm for years in this state and the paradigm is we’re cheap,” he said. “That’ right. We don’t want to pay. And the reality is, that we think that because we’re cheap, people will come. I’ve got to tell you, people don’t come to places that are cheap, they come to places of value.”

Democrats earlier this week released details of a tax plan they will pursue to restore $920 million in cuts to education and health and human services programs, including $120 million to higher education.

But Sandoval and GOP lawmakers have already rejected the plan. Democrats cannot raise taxes without Republican support.

Audio clips:

Sen. Steven Horsford says the property tax shift to higher education should come from all counties or none:

050711Horsford :13 counties, or none.”

Sen. Dean Rhoads says some rural counties are on the verge of bankruptcy:

050711Rhoads :21 are really hurting.”

Assemblyman Tom Grady says some counties cannot raise their property taxes to compensate for the shift:

050711Grady :15 of the cap.”

Assemblyman Marcus Conklin says the property tax plan is being proposed because Nevada is cheap:

050711Conklin :23 places of value.”

 

 

Assembly Republicans Hold With Gov. Sandoval On Higher Education Budget, Ensuring Funding Impasse Continues

By Sean Whaley | 7:39 pm April 22nd, 2011

CARSON CITY – After a lengthy hearing in the Assembly today on what several witnesses said were the catastrophic effects of Gov. Brian Sandoval’s budget recommendations for higher education, Republican members held firm with the executive branch in a series of funding votes.

The votes came in a meeting of the Committee of the Whole, where all 42 members of the Assembly heard testimony on what higher education officials and supporters said were reductions that would mean closing off access to higher education to as many as 19,000 Nevada high school graduates.

Dan Klaich, chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education, talked about the effects of Sandoval’s budget in hearings in both the Senate and Assembly.

Higher education Chancellor Dan Klaich testifies in the Senate today/Photo: Andrew Doughman, Nevada News Bureau

Today he offered an alternative to the Sandoval budget that would increase student fees by 13 percent, require cuts in operating budgets of another 13 percent, and see $100 million in additional revenue from lawmakers. The final element of the plan would restore additional funding in the second year of the budget if the economy recovers and revenues come in higher than projections.

Sandoval’s budget would reduce state funding to the system by $162 million.

Heidi Gansert, chief of staff to Sandoval, and Andrew Clinger, the state budget director, defended the higher education budget and responded to questions at the hearings.

The administration’s position has been consistent: that the key to getting Nevada out of its economic downturn is to create more jobs, and that tax increases would slow any recovery.

The 16 Assembly Republicans held firm with Sandoval in the votes, which included questions about whether to support Sandoval’s proposed higher education budget. The Republican caucus picked up two Democrats in support when the vote was on the question of whether the Assembly should support tuition increases of 10 percent to 15 percent to offset some of the budget reductions to higher education in the Sandoval budget.

Democrats Harvey Munford and Marilyn Kirkpatrick, both from Southern Nevada, voted with Republicans on the tuition question.

Munford, D-Las Vegas, said he thought tuition increases seemed reasonable in light of the state’s financial situation.

“That’s a pretty common practice across the country when you’re short on funds,” he said. “Sometimes finding additional funding requires increasing tuition.”

Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, also said it seemed as though the Board of Regents would approve a tuition increase of somewhere between 10 to 15 percent anyway.

“I think we are going to end up raising tuition,” she said. “I just hope we can keep the same quality of education as we do that.”

The mostly party-line votes mirrored those in the Assembly on Tuesday, when the subject was the public education budget. The Senate budget hearings did not include votes by the 11 Democrats and 10 Republicans.

Democrats seeking to offset some of what they argue are the worst cuts in Sandoval’s budget need the support of a few Republicans to raise taxes or continue those tax increases approved by the 2009 Legislature that are set to expire on June 30.

Sandoval has been unwavering in his position that he will not raise taxes or fees as part of his two-year, $5.8 billion general fund budget. Democrats need three GOP supporters in the Senate and two in the Assembly to raise taxes and override a Sandoval veto.

In the Senate Committee of the Whole hearing, Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, asked Klaich about his alternative budget proposal: “For argument’s sake, if we need $100 million … where does that come from or where do we cut?”

Klaich replied that the Legislature could mitigate many of the worst cuts, including those proposed for higher education, if it considers extending the 2009 tax increase that is scheduled to end this July.

“We are talking about a budget that is built on giving a tax cut in the upcoming biennium to the largest businesses in the state by allowing the taxes to sunset,” he said.

The 2009 Legislature increased the business tax on the state’s largest employers as part of a tax package to help balance the current budget. Those increases were required to sunset, however, on June 30 of this year.

Sandoval has rejected any suggestion of extending the sunsets to add more revenue to his budget.

The Senate hearing also featured some of the state’s prominent businessmen speaking to the benefits of higher education. They said corporate philanthropy may be in danger if businesses cannot be assured the state views its universities and colleges as long-term, sustainable investments.

Representatives from businesses in the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce echoed last week’s chamber memo, in which the chamber outlined a plan for reforms to the state’s higher education system paired with a possible tax increase.

Today, a representative from the Henderson Chamber of Commerce made a similar statement.

“Members are almost universally supportive of higher education,” said Kirk Claussen of Wells Fargo and the Henderson Chamber of Commerce. “…If they can be assured that the taxes they are already paying into the state are being effectively and efficiently spent, they are willing to come to the table to talk about additional taxes to help support the system.”

The votes suggest that bringing the 2011 legislative session to a close won’t be an easy task. If an acceptable budget is not in place by June 6, when the session must end, at least one and possibly more special sessions could be necessary, running the budget debate well into the summer.

Nevada News Bureau Intern Andrew Doughman contributed to this report.

 

Why Won’t More Businesses Come To Nevada?

By Andrew Doughman | 7:22 am March 24th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Sometimes, trying to read the CEO’s mind can be a political game.

Critics of Gov. Brian Sandoval’s proposed education cuts have said business owners will not move to a state that ravages its already low-performing education system with spending reductions.

Whether that is true or not depends who you ask.

On Monday, television host Jon Ralston asked Sandoval if business owners have cited concerns over Nevada’s public education system as the reason they don’t set up shop in Nevada.

Sandoval replied he “has not heard that one.”

The next day, United States Sen. John Ensign addressed the Nevada Legislature. Ensign said he talks with “technology companies from all over the world.”

“When I ask them why not choose Nevada as a place for your business to build, the answer is that our schools are just not good enough,” he said. “They mention that the tax climate is desirable but tell me our K-12 system is inadequate.”

The two Republican politicians offered different answers. So who is right?

Again, that depends who you ask. Mark Arend is the editor of Site Selection magazine, a publication for CEOs and real estate consultants.

“I don’t think most site selectors get into the weeds of education budgets that much,” he said. “They’re really looking at finding the labor force they want.”

Businesses like a favorable tax climate and a regulatory landscape devoid of red tape.

But they also need the right people. Of course, who those right people are depends on the job.

“What a casino needs is a lot different from what a solar manufacturing company needs,” Arend said.

Leaders in Nevada are more interested in the latter than the former.

“Our future lies in business sectors like technology commercialization, bioscience, renewable energy asset development, and defense sector expansion,” Sandoval said during his State of the State address in January.

Those are the types of jobs that require skilled workers, or at least educated workers who can easily learn the skills required in emerging industries.

Hence the arguments that Sandoval should not cut education budgets. That way, the argument goes, chief executives considering a relocation will be confident that Nevada’s education system can churn out skilled workers.

Sandoval plans to cut the K-12 budget by more than $200 million and the higher education budget by $162 million.

Nevada consistently ranks poorly – sometimes last in the nation – in polls and surveys grading or ranking its education system.

“It’s a perception issue. There are terrific schools in our school system,” said Hayim Mizrachi, at NAI Las Vegas, a commercial real estate company. “…But, when they read that Nevada is the lowest of the low in education it raises a flag, and the flag creates a conversation, and that conversation distracts from all the benefits.”

Some of those benefits are Nevada’s low tax environment.

Site Selection magazine surveyed corporate real estate executives and asked them “what matters most” in determining a site location. A skilled work force and a state’s tax scheme are first and second on the list.

Last month, business leaders met with the governor and state legislators. For the type of high-tech jobs Nevada’s leaders want to create, the business representatives said that low taxes and a solid education system are both important.

So who is right, Sandoval or Ensign?

Here’s a politician’s answer: they both are.

Is Nevada’s Higher Education Retirement Plan A Pension Reform Model?

By Sean Whaley | 9:33 am March 8th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Gov. Brian Sandoval is seeking significant changes to Nevada’s public employee pension plan in the 2011 legislative session to reduce the ongoing and long-term financial cost of the benefit to the state and taxpayers.

But if he wants fundamental change, he might look to the state university system’s retirement plan for faculty.

In all the talk of changes to the Nevada Public Employees’ Retirement Plan, which covers more than 102,000 current active state and local government workers, a separate plan for one small segment of Nevada workers – university and college faculty and professional administrators – has received scant attention.

This group of employees has its own defined contribution plan, the cost of which is shared equally by the Nevada System of Higher Education and the faculty and administrators. The current contribution rate is 11.25 percent from the employee and the same amount from the employer. It was created in 1970 following action by the Legislature in 1969.

About 4,600 Nevada higher education professionals participate in the defined contribution plan, while another 639, or 12.2 percent of the total, are in the PERS plan.

The 401(k)-style retirement plan is portable, meaning faculty can take their investments with them if the relocate. It is the type of plan used by most higher education systems across the country to provide a retirement benefit to faculty because they often relocate to other states as part of their academic careers.

Most importantly, because it is a defined contribution plan, where the employees are responsible for their investment choices, there is no liability to the Nevada higher education system, the state, or taxpayers. The contribution rates for the plan mirror those set for PERS participants.

“There is no accrued liability to the state or the institution under a defined contribution plan,” said Gerry Bomotti, senior vice president for Finance and Business at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “Basically the employee and the employer contribute. The employee basically has those resources for their retirement purposes. They have options with investments and the like.”

Bomotti said faculty preferences do tend to shift between the current 401(k)-type plan and the defined benefit option offered by PERS depending on how the markets are performing.

Individuals who manage their own retirement accounts can suffer more in major market downturns than the defined benefit plans managed by professionals.

Attention was first drawn to the plan by a “tweet” from Nevada Faculty Alliance Vice President and UNLV professor Greg Brown, who said: “Faculty have had 401(k)-style plan for decades, zero post-retirement liability for state, privately admin’d. #modelcitizens”

Brown said the professionals covered by the higher education retirement plan are highly educated and entrepreneurial and so have the ability to manage their own retirement accounts. Day-to-day management is handled by one of three firms providing investment opportunities.

“It is in my experience very popular,” he said. “It is part of the culture of the academic profession.”

But that might not be the case for all other classes of government employees who are covered by PERS, Brown said. If there is a decision to move to a defined contribution plan for all future public sector workers, there would have to be some assurances that the employees would have the capacity and opportunity to take on that oversight, he said.

Only three states, Alaska, Nebraska and Michigan, along with the District of Columbia, rely primarily on a defined contribution retirement plan rather than a defined benefit plan, based on 2009 data from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The defined benefit plan offered by PERS is the more traditional type of pension, where workers get a guaranteed retirement based on salary and years of service.

But these types of plan have come under fire nationally because of the financial liability they create for states, particularly if they are underfunded. Nevada’s PERS plan was only 70.5 percent fully funded as of June 30, 2010.

Other states, including Utah, are looking at retirement plans that combine elements of both, as has been proposed by the Sandoval administration.

Dana Bilyeu, executive officer of PERS, said the retirement system has been approached by representatives of the university professors in the previous two legislative sessions asking to be able to participate in the plan. This is because the individual accounts maintained by faculty saw greater losses on a percentage basis in the recent market downturns than the PERS fund did, she said.

There is no authority under the current law to bring the group into the PERS plan, Bilyeu said.

James Richardson, director of the Grant Sawyer Center for Justice Studies and a UNR faculty member since 1968, said he believes Nevada’s public employee retirement system is one of the best managed and fiscally responsible in the nation. Richardson is not a member of PERS.

“One of the reasons the professionals want back in the (PERS) plan is that it is actually a very good plan,” he said. “It is being amortized out. All kinds of studies have demonstrated it is one of the top plans in the country in terms of its viability.”

Richardson said he would not advocate for a complete changeover to a defined contribution plan. Some states that have made this move are switching back, while others are looking at a combination of defined benefit and defined contribution as Sandoval is proposing, he said.

But the lack of a taxpayer liability is why many states are looking at defined contribution plans for their public employee pensions. The PERS plan had a $10 billion long-term unfunded liability as of July 1, 2010 that taxpayers are potentially on the hook for if the plan’s investments don’t hit targets or if contribution rates are not maintained at adequate levels.

Advocates for the current system say Nevada’s public employee retirement plan is well managed, is being funded appropriately and will be fully funded over time. They say no major changes are necessary.

But Sandoval says the threat to the state from the unfunded liability makes it necessary to move to a defined contribution plan from the defined benefit pension plan for future hires.

He is proposing a partial shift for newly hired state employees to a combination of a defined benefit/defined contribution plan. It would cut the amount the state contributes to an employee’s defined benefit retirement by about half to 6 percent. Employees would also pay half as much at 6 percent.

The result would be a much smaller benefit at retirement, but it would cut the state future pension liability by half as well.

Audio clips:

Gerry Bomotti of UNLV says the faculty retirement plan carries no risk to Nevada taxpayers:

030711Bomotti :22 and the like.”

UNR faculty member James Richardson says some of his colleagues would like to join PERS in part because it is well managed:

030811Richardson :16 of its viability.”

Recession Leading To Exodus Of University Faculty

By Andrew Doughman | 10:14 am February 23rd, 2011

Professor Michael Young began to think last year that he should look for a job outside of Nevada.

It was not the craziest thought; the recession was in full swing and legislators were slashing the higher education budget.

Young was a departmental director at the Desert Research Institute. Now he’s an associate director at the University of Texas, Austin.

During the recession, Nevada has had a difficult time keeping research professors like Young.

The best students already seem to be leaving for out-of-state colleges. The same thing seems to be happening with faculty.

“It turns out, ironically, that the state of Texas has big economic problems as well,” Young said in a phone interview. “But there’s a very fundamentally different level of understanding in terms of what the university does for the economy and for the future of the state [in Texas]. You don’t really hear that a lot in Nevada.”

What you do hear is the president of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas telling faculty that the university may go bankrupt. You hear Gov. Brian Sandoval proposing a $163 million cut to the state’s universities and colleges.

At the same time, Nevada’s public figures have championed economic diversification through hiring innovative faculty, providing start-up funds and building a research engine. These professors will presumably leverage millions in federal grants and build Reno or Las Vegas into high-tech research hubs where start-ups will provide manufacturing jobs.

It sounds great. One day we will talk of Silicon Valley, Seattle and Reno as the tech hubs of the West.

But then reality sets in.

“It’s hard to imagine a young faculty member … why would that person go to a university where 30 percent of its budget is being cut?” Young asked. “It’s not an incentive that a lot of young people would take.”

Young said he left Nevada for various reasons, among them the state’s fiscal woes.

Steven Wells, president of the DRI, said that the institution has lost 21 faculty since 2008.

“We’ve had people who have been here five to ten years suddenly leaving and our investment in them goes with them,” he said. “Michael Young is a prime example. I tried to do whatever I could to keep him.”

Wells said that researchers like Young aren’t tenured. They support themselves through grants they receive largely from the federal government.

But the DRI’s administrative costs do come from the state. The state must also attract graduate students to work under researchers like Young.

“These researchers within these institutes have to believe that there’s a future here and that the state is interested in bolstering the fledgling research infrastructure that we have,” said Jim Croce, director at the Nevada Institute for Renewable Energy Commercialization.

Data provided by the Nevada System of Higher Education showed that Young had brought about $3 million into Nevada via grants during the past two years. He’s just one of many professors at the DRI, UNLV and the University of Nevada, Reno who collectively brought in millions of dollars to the state and have since left.

Where’s the money?

The recession has left the state’s coffers running dry, the federal stimulus is running out and “new spending” are dirty words at the Legislature.

A Senate committee on economic development heard testimony this week from Croce, who talked about expanding his organization’s link between university research and the renewable energy sector.

Senators immediately wanted to know the cost.

“Does that mean investing general funds into the system so that they have the capacity in their budget to go out and recruit their researchers?” asked Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno.

Croce replied that yes, Nevada would be “literally buying” faculty to come to Nevada.

Sen. Ruben Kihuen, D-Las Vegas, followed by asking what the state would need to do.

“At a minimum we have to stop the bleeding and make sure we have a healthy NSHE base,” he said.

Higher ed needs “drastic reform”

Others argue that the higher education system already has enough money.

“You’re really good at coming and asking for money,” said Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, to Dan Klaich, NSHE chancellor, at a higher education hearing this week. “But what we need now is help and places where we can make reform. Drastic reform.”

Her comments echo those of the governor’s senior adviser, Dale Erquiaga.

“You’ve got to have money to spend money,” he said during a January press conference.

Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki said that the universities can help with economic development, even as their budgets shrink.

“It can be done today,” he said. “It’s about directing resources.”

He said that universities can help faculty gear their research toward commercialization.

Nonetheless, those same faculty have been and still are leaving.

“It’s not like you flip a light switch and you get your research back,” Young said. “To me that’s probably one of the saddest parts of the story. …When the economy is doing well, the state is going to continue to suffer through this because the research infrastructure is gone.”

Higher Education Presidents and Regents Criticize Budget Cuts

By Andrew Doughman | 6:53 pm February 3rd, 2011

LAS VEGAS – The presidents of Nevada’s colleges and universities said the governor’s budget cuts would put their institutions on a starvation diet.

They argued that past budget cuts severely slimmed their institutions, meaning additional funding reductions would threaten their core academic mission.

The Board of Regents, which governs the Nevada System of Higher Education, met in Las Vegas with the presidents today to discuss Gov. Brian Sandoval’s budget. That budget cuts higher education by 17.7 percent or $162 million.

The presidents said again and again that they will have to charge students more in tuition and fees, eliminate degree programs, curtail course offerings, restrict access and fire professors and staff.

Neal Smatresk, president of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said that he sees two paths forward given the magnitude of the cuts:

“Ask yourself: Does UNLV or UNR [University of Nevada, Reno] become a degree mill and dramatically reduce quality or do we become very small, very expensive and very restrictive?”

The question of access, however, is more severe at community colleges. Access is supposed to be one of the primary reasons community colleges exist.

Michael Richards, president of the College of Southern Nevada, repeated to the regents a story he also told to the Legislature: this past fall, CSN had to turn away more than 5,000 students because they didn’t have room for them.

He said that the college would continue restricting access.

“You would see a major change in the complexion of CSN with these staggering cuts,” he said.

Presidents also said that they’re losing key faculty, especially at research institutions like UNR, UNLV and the Desert Research Institute. Those faculty members are lured away by more competitive offers.

“The faculty are leaving because they’re worried about the future,” said Stephen Wells, president of the Desert Research Institute.

He said that when the state is “chopping off the limbs” of the budget, his top professors become increasingly antsy about their job security.

Those are the people, he said, who the state pays $75,000 in salary and, in return, bring in tens of millions of dollars to the state in research grants.

The presidents repeatedly said that the governor’s 5 percent salary cut and assumed tuition increases of about 10 to 12 percent annually would still leave their institutions with gaping budget holes.

Putting forth solutions, Regents hopped between calling for more revenue to mitigate the cuts and admonishing the presidents to find further efficiencies.

It’s a dance they’ll have to master as they try to sell higher education to the Legislature during the upcoming session. Politically, legislators may be unwilling to levy a new tax to support higher education if the institutions cannot take demonstrable steps to stretch every dollar they have.

Although the presidents and regents collectively had little praise for the governor, they said they appreciate Sandoval’s plan to let the universities retain more of their tuition dollars as well as allow them to shift funds around their institutions.

Along with the governor’s proposed 5 percent salary reductions, Sandoval has supported differentiated tuition. In short, that means some students would pay more for certain degree programs. It means paying more for an engineering degree than an English degree since an engineer is likely to make more money in the future.

The regents also asked Chancellor Dan Klaich, who oversees the state’s college and universities, to coordinate tactical program closures. That way UNR and UNLV would not offer duplicate degree programs.

One source of revenue that won’t be available is the federal stimulus dollars that had helped buoy the higher education budget. The money is almost gone, and there’s no round two.

Tax increases are also off the table, for now. Sandoval has vowed to veto any bill with a tax increase, and legislators have thus far offered no tax plans.

The Legislature convenes Feb. 7 for their 120-day session.

Board of Regents Chairman Calls For Tax Increases

By Andrew Doughman | 2:41 pm January 28th, 2011

A prominent education official has called for tax increases to offset the proposed higher education budget cuts in Gov. Brian Sandoval’s budget.

James Dean Leavitt, chair of the board that governs Nevada’s higher education system, said today that he would like the Legislature to use a “revenue enhancement” to offset every dollar the governor proposes to cut from the system.

He said that the Legislature should maintain the level of funds that it appropriated to Nevada’s higher education system during the 2010 special session.

Sandoval’s budget recommends a $162 million reduction in state spending for the next biennium. Chancellor Dan Klaich, who oversees the Nevada System of Higher Education, said yesterday at a legislative budget subcommittee hearing that a 73 percent tuition increase would be necessary to offset that decrease.

Leavitt said the universities and colleges of this state have already taken three successive years of cuts and any further cuts would have a “cataclysmic impact” for the state. While acknowledging the need for spending accountability, he said the system should be properly funded.

“That means coming up with new revenue from any and all sources,” he said. “What’s unfortunate is that we look at any revenue enhancement as a burden and … not a public good.”

Leavitt is the chair of the Board of Regents, the governing body that determines how to spend the money the Legislature appropriates to it. The Board of Regents oversees all of the state’s universities and community colleges.

He condemned the proposed budget cuts at a town hall meeting at UNLV earlier today.

Sandoval, however, has said repeatedly that he would not support a tax increase and would veto any bill containing one.

The governor has also repeated a mantra that government agencies should make each dollar go further.

“You have to have money in order to invest money,” said Dale Erquiaga, the governor’s senior adviser, at a press conference yesterday. “All investors know, when you only have a finite amount of money, you have to make your money work harder, and we believe the budget does that.”

The governor responded to criticisms of his proposed budget in a statement released this afternoon. “It is important for Nevadans to know that we are not the only state facing challenges in funding higher education,” he said. “The economic situation across the nation is forcing governors and Legislatures to make reductions in higher education spending. Some are facing even deeper cuts than Nevada.”

Leavitt, however, said that there’s “tremendous support” for properly funding higher education, partially because there’s a direct public benefit from the system.

Yesterday, Klaich came close to voicing support for a tax increase.

“I’m not sure that the people of Nevada don’t want taxes to support education,” he said. “I don’t just accept the fact that our friends and neighbors don’t want to support education by means of enhanced revenues.”

Other higher education officials have been less supportive of any spending increases. Mark Alden, a member of the Board of Regents, said that new taxes should be the last resort.

He said he needs more time to study the budget and look at every way to cut expenses first. If further evaluation proves the higher education system needs more funding, he said he would support a “modest business tax.”

Today, Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, responded to the proposed higher-education budget cuts with a letter slamming the governor’s plan.

Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, has also criticized the governor’s proposed cuts to both the K-12 and higher education budgets.

“We all understand that we will not be able to turn around this economy without a well-educated workforce to attract new businesses, yet the governor is proposing draconian cuts to education funding,” he said in a statement released earlier today.

Democrats in the Senate and Assembly have, however, thus far proposed no plan of their own to counter the governor’s.

Erquiaga yesterday challenged Democrats to present their own plan.

“The governor has put his cards on the table,” Erquiaga said. “The other side is talking about the hand they hold.”

The people of Nevada will get to weigh in with their thoughts regarding revenue and budget cuts at tomorrow’s budget, town hall meetings in Reno and Las Vegas.


Amid Budget Cuts Debate, University Students Organizing

By Andrew Doughman | 5:33 pm January 27th, 2011

RENO – He looked out into the audience at the University of Nevada, Reno and said: “if lawmakers want to invest in something, we want to make sure they invest in us.”

Behind him, a Powerpoint presentation displayed tactics for talking to lawmakers about higher education budget cuts.

He is Casey Stiteler, the UNR student directing the newly-created student government Department of Legislative Affairs. After years of budget cuts, he and dozens of other students have coalesced into something of a self-advocacy group.

But their protests won’t be of their parents’ variety. Gone are the marches and megaphones.

These students speak of biennial budgets and pepper their talk with names of state Senators and Assembly members. They’re very worried about the state’s Tobacco Settlement money, which is the pot of money from which many of them draw benefits in the form of Millennium Scholarships.

They’re also very upset that Gov. Brian Sandoval’s budget includes a $162 million reduction in state support to higher education.

Stiteler and ASUN Senator Jonathan Moore briefed about 40 students Wednesday night about the state of higher education before delving into what might be called a strategy talk.

They shared talking points and reviewed budget figures. A sheet went around the room onto which students wrote their e-mails so they could receive legislative updates from Stiteler.

Slowly, a strategy developed. Students said they need to show legislators the impact of the cuts on their chances for success. They’ll also need to convince legislators that the system can’t take much more strain.

Lastly and perhaps surprisingly, Stiteler and others in the room seemed resigned to higher tuition and fees. Rather than fight a reasonable increase that could keep the lights on, they called for more control.

We need to have a promise from Carson City that we get to keep that money on campus and let it have a direct impact on education,” Stiteler said. “There are some moves we can try to make to see our dollars work for us.”

The first move will be this Saturday. Students plan to arrive by the busload at a Reno town hall meeting to discuss budget cuts.

We can have a big impact,” Stiteler explained. “One of the lawmakers who is going to be there is Debbie Smith, and she is the chair of Ways and Means, which is kind of the money committee.”

Ben Pelt, a 22-year-old UNR student, said he’s going to shift around his work schedule to be at the Saturday hearing.

Having educated people in the economy is going to be our future,” he said. “It depends on people going through college and getting an education.”

In such a budget-conscious Legislature, the students plan to appeal to the pocketbook.

Today, Dan Klaich, the chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education, spoke before a legislative committee reviewing the governor’s proposed higher education budget. During his testimony, he called students “human capital” and universities “critical places of workforce development.”

Noting that the University of Reno had already shuttered services like the career center and eliminated whole majors, the students plan to say that further reductions could throw a wrench right into the state’s biggest economic engine.

But they aren’t naïve either.

When it does come time to cut, there’s very few things to choose from,” Stiteler said. “If anyone is going to be chosen to shoulder the burden … a lot of people come to higher education.”

So what’s the answer?

Like many legislators, they don’t know quite yet.

Part of the game, though, is just showing up.

If we all band together there’s a very good chance that we’ll have an effect on this,” Stiteler said.

Gov. Sandoval Says He Will Seek Property Tax Support For Higher Education System

By Sean Whaley | 11:23 am January 8th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Local governments would lose some property tax revenue to help fund higher education, and college students could face higher fees, in Gov. Brian Sandoval’s budget to be unveiled Jan 24.

Sandoval, in an interview on Jon Ralston’s Face to Face television program, said both elements are in consideration as his $5.3 billion general fund spending plan is finalized in advance of the 2011 legislative session.

Sandoval said he is considering taking nine cents of the property tax to help fund the state’s community college system.

Sandoval faces a major funding gap between existing spending on state programs and education and available revenue. There have been indications for several weeks that closing that gap will rely in part on shifting some of the cost of running some programs to local governments.

Diverting property taxes to higher education would involve such a shift, since the revenues now are used exclusively to pay for local government and public education. The Nevada System of Higher Education is now funded primarily through the state general fund.

Sandoval said he will not raise taxes or fees to balance the budget.

“We’re only going to spend the money we have,” he said.

Sandoval rejected any suggestion that such moves are “hidden” tax increases, noting that different programs are paid for from different pots of tax money. The question is which pot of money is the best choice to provide the various services, he said.

“The people of this state are paying approximately $20 billion and it’s all going into different buckets, and some buckets are better than others,” he said. “And we’re moving the money where it is most appropriate. There is no doubt about it that the university system is an economic engine in this state and that they provide a great benefit, UNLV and UNR, for the local communities. So we feel that it is appropriate for that property tax to go to the universities.”

Sandoval said any decision to raise student fees will be up to the Board of Regents.

Sandoval also confirmed he is looking at efficiencies in state government to save money where possible.

He also confirmed there will be salary reductions, but said massive layoffs of state employees will not be part of his spending plan.

Nevada Higher Education System Announces Pro Bono Lobbying Team

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 1:15 pm December 9th, 2010

CARSON CITY – Chancellor Dan Klaich has announced the formation of a new lobbying team that will represent the Nevada System of Higher Education free of charge at the 2011 legislative session.

The team will be chaired by former U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan and will include Alfredo Alonso, Michael Hillerby, Rose McKinney-James, Keith Lee, John Pappageorge and The Capitol Company.

“We are fortunate to have a team of all-stars who have agreed to pro bono representation of Nevada’s higher education system,” Klaich said. “Each member has a long history of service to this state and a passionate belief that public colleges and universities are critical in not only reviving Nevada’s economy, but improving our way of life for generations to come.”

Marcia Turner, who currently serves in a leadership capacity with NSHE’s Health Sciences System, will be charged with the additional responsibility of managing the day-to-day efforts of the new legislative team.

The team will represent the Nevada System of Higher Education and its eight member institutions: College of Southern Nevada, Desert Research Institute, Great Basin College, Nevada State College, Truckee Meadows Community College, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, University of Nevada, Reno and Western Nevada College.

Bryan is a shareholder at Lionel Sawyer & Collins and is a member of the firm’s executive committee. He serves on the Board of Trustees of the Nevada Development Authority and is on the Board of Trustees of the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce.

Bryan was elected twice as governor and served two terms in the U.S. Senate.

Reorganizing Course Offerings May Be One Way to Solve Budget Shortfall, Higher Education Chancellor Says

By Sean Whaley | 4:28 pm February 4th, 2010

CARSON CITY – Higher education Chancellor Dan Klaich said today that proposals made by Regent Mark Alden to shift teacher and nursing courses from the state’s universities to lower cost colleges should be part of the discussion on how to absorb impending funding cuts.

Klaich said reexamining the way the universities, state college and community colleges work together to offer education opportunities to students needs to be part of a review by the presidents of the campuses of the Nevada System of Higher Education.

“Hypothetically there is a different cost of education at the tiers of the different institutions,” Klaich said. “But I don’t know how you pick up blocks and move them. I’m not saying you can’t do it but everything has ripples.”

Even so, it is appropriate to ask campus presidents to see how they can most efficiently offer educational opportunities to students, he said.

“I think things like Mark has suggested should be on the table in that discussion,” Klaich said. “But to think that there is a simple solution to cutting 22 percent out of our budgets is just not reasonable.”

Alden said the change to the class offerings would make up about a third of the shortfall. Then, all salaries and payroll should be cut by 10 percent to 15 percent to make up the remainder of the required reductions, he said.

Klaich said he will not be recommending any pay cuts to the Board of Regents. If salary reductions are proposed by Gov. Jim Gibbons and approved by the Legislature, then the university system will address them at that time, he said.

Regent Kevin Page, asked for his thoughts on Alden’s proposal to shift class offerings to lower cost institutions, said it is premature to talk of specific types of cuts until the actual size of the budget cut becomes known. But Alden’s suggestion on course realignment could be part of a move to improved efficiency, he said.

Page said another option would be to increase the cost of tuition for nursing programs because the cost of providing the education is three to four times that of other types of degree offerings.

“In that way we could recover more of the cost,” he said.

But there is no question campuses need to work together to create efficiencies and reduce costs, Page said. He cited as an example a simulated lab created at the Shadow Lane campus in Las Vegas that provides top quality training for health professionals. It was created as a collaborative effort by several campuses and could not have been done individually, he said.

“It doesn’t make a lot of sense for everyone to compete with each other,” Page said.

If higher education is forced to take a 22 percent cut, the seven-campus system would see a $37 million cut this year and $110 million next year, according to information provided by Klaich to the Board of Regents earlier this week.

This is the size of the cuts required to cover a nearly $900 million budget shortfall.

Large student fee increases, closing or consolidating campuses and laying off hundreds of higher education employees are all potential parts of a solution if such cuts become a reality, Klaich said.

Gibbons has proposed a 10 percent cut for state agencies and education as a way to bridge part of the funding shortfall. Details of how he will fill the remaining gap are expected at his state of the state address on Monday. Additional pay cuts are likely to be part of his proposal.

Regents Hear Scenarios if Steep Budget Cuts are Mandated by Governor, Legislature

By Sean Whaley | 5:29 pm February 2nd, 2010

RENO – Those charged with overseeing Nevada’s system of higher education heard several scenarios today if the current state budget crisis requires cuts of 22 percent, from closing campuses to huge student fee increases to massive layoffs.

The theoretical scenarios, presented to the Board of Regents by Chancellor Dan Klaich, were intended to demonstrate the severity of the cuts that would be necessary if the system is forced to accept a $110 million budget cut in next fiscal year.

In his report to regents, Klaich said the cuts could be accommodated in several ways.The $110 million target could be reached by closing the College of Southern Nevada and the Nevada State College at Henderson.

The cuts could also be achieved by laying off 1,290 higher education employees or by raising student fees by nearly 50 percent.

“Students will be denied access; they will be slowed down; turned away,” Klaich said.

None of these options are manageable, but Klaich told regents they help convey the severity of the situation Nevada’s higher education is facing because of the state’s continued economic downturn.

Some combination, including campus consolidation, student fee increases and layoffs or paycuts, could become part of a final higher education budget reduction plan.

Regent Mark Alden, who attended the meeting in Las Vegas with most regents, did not offer any comment during the discussion. But in a phone interview afterwards, he said the budget could be balanced without the great disruptions discussed during the meeting.

“The state college is the best thing they’ve got,” Alden said. “What we should do is cap enrollment at the universities and move all undergrad teaching and nursing courses to the community colleges and state college.”

Alden said that move would make up about a third of the shortfall. Then, all salaries and payroll should be cut by 10 percent to 15 percent to make up the remainder of the required reductions, he said.

“It would solve the problem, but no one wants to do it,” Alden said. “I don’t know why.”

The Nevada System of Higher Education would also see a $37 million cut in funding this fiscal year starting March 1 under the 22 percent cut scenario.

The actual level of cuts that will be required in higher education, as well as the rest of state government, remains a work in progress. Gov. Jim Gibbons is reviewing his options, and is expected to present a plan of action at a special state of the state address on Monday. He will also call the Legislature into special session to deal with the crisis, likely later this month.

State lawmakers have scheduled a number of meetings with their own fiscal staff and state agency leaders to go over options. They have also scheduled a number of public meetings to hear from the public on ideas to balance the budget.

Klaich was scheduled to meet with legislative leaders later today to go over what the budget cuts would mean to higher education.

The state is facing a shortfall estimated at between $900 million and $1 billion over the remainder of this fiscal year and next. Most of the shortfall is the result of tax revenues coming in much lower than projected when the Legislature adopted a two-year budget last year. Increased Medicaid caseloads that must be paid for are adding to the overall budget dilemma.

The cuts expected to be required to balance the budget will likely hit every area of state government and include public education as well.

Gibbons said he is considering layoffs, the shutdown of programs and other drastic measures to balance the budget.

Regents appeared inclined to support the idea that any cuts should be implemented by campus presidents, allowing for maximum flexibility.

Regent Michael Wixom said only that campus cuts should be accomplished in such a way as to ensure no serious issues arise as to equity among the various colleges.

Regents will await action by Gibbons and the Legislature before taking action to implement any budget cuts. The board is scheduled to meet March 4 and 5 in Southern Nevada where final decisions are expected to be made.

Chancellor Says Nevada Higher Education System Will Plan for 8 Percent Budget Cuts

By Sean Whaley | 9:42 am January 6th, 2010

CARSON CITY – Chancellor Dan Klaich has informed the state budget office that the higher education system will participate in a budget cutting exercise in the event spending reductions are needed due to lower than expected tax revenues.

In a letter to state Budget Director Andrew Clinger sent Monday, Klaich said a special meeting of the Board of Regents of the Nevada System of Higher Education has been set for Feb. 2 to consider the 8 percent budget reduction plans that will be submitted by each campus.

The 8 percent reductions are in the middle of the 6 percent, 8 percent and 10 percent cuts requested by Clinger in a memo sent out last month to all state agencies.

“I have directed the campuses to focus on the mid-range of cuts between 6 percent and 10 percent outlined in your All Agency Memorandum,” Klaich said.

The letter is a departure from Klaich’s first response to the request for budget cutting scenarios on Dec. 8, when he urged Gov. Jim Gibbons to find alternatives to cutting the higher education budget.

“Governor, I know you made a promise to the people of this state concerning taxes,” he said in the December letter. “However, the current situation and further requests for budget cuts will lead to the dismantling of critical structures and functions of higher education that do not serve the state. There must be another way.”

In the Monday letter, Klaich continued to urge that the majority of any budget cuts come in the second year of the two-year budget, not the current fiscal year which is now more than six months over.

“Contracts have been issued, class schedules set, and registration is largely complete,” he said. “I believe that utilizing proper cash flow techniques and other options available, including acceleration of use of the already budgeted line of credit, that cuts this fiscal year, at a minimum to education, can be avoided.”

There is a $160 million line of credit included to help balance the two-year state general fund budget, but $130 million is scheduled to be used next fiscal year. If the full amount is used this year instead, some cuts could potentially be avoided until 2011.

The Gibbons Administration has not endorsed this idea, saying it would just make the budget gap even bigger in the second year.

The cuts now being contemplated by Gibbons could start as soon as March 1 this fiscal year.

In his letter, Klaich noted that enrollment in the system is up 4 percent as more Nevada residents seek to improve their skills in a tough job market.

Enrollment caps at the system’s campuses has been discussed, he said.

“While this is a highly undesirable result with long-term ramifications for the state, it can’t be ruled out should worst case scenarios, such as the levels addressed in your memo, come to fruition,” he said.

An 8 percent reduction in the final four months of this fiscal year would mean $13.4 million in cuts to the eight campus system. An 8 percent reduction in the full 2011 fiscal year would total $40 million.

Gibbons is considering budget cuts to balance the state budget, which is now $67 million in the red in just the first few months of the 2010 fiscal year. No decision has been made on what level of cuts may be required.

Gibbons is waiting for a Jan. 22 report from the Economic Forum, a panel of private citizens with fiscal expertise, before making any budget decisions. A special session of the Legislature may be required to implement any budget cuts.