This originally appeared in the Reno Gazette-Journal.
The political season is upon us, and claims on state funds are being staked. Unfortunately, higher education’s voice will likely be drowned out in the cacophony. Add to the mix that we as a state spend far less per capita on higher education than the other states.
Unfortunately, Nevada never developed a collegegoing culture. Nevadans could always earn a decent living without a degree in our economy driven by the gaming industry and construction. This is not to say that many Nevada families did not prize a college education; it is just that for us as a state it was not a high priority.
The result is that Nevada has fewer post-high school degrees or certificates per capita than all but a couple of our sister states. We also have the second-highest unemployment rate in the country. Seven out of 10 young adults in Nevada lack a degree or credential. By 2020, we know that 58 percent of jobs in Nevada will require a degree or credential and, with only 28.3 percent of young Nevadans holding either, our skills gap will be significant.
Which brings us to the core issue of Nevada’s expectations for higher education. We all can agree that in order to build a business or organization, you need to hire the best and brightest talent. This costs money. That goes for a research university as well. The Wall Street Journal recently ran a story focusing on the importance of an educated workforce on a state’s ability to attract new businesses.
According to recent Forbes studies, many businesses place a higher premium on an educated workforce than on taxes.
Those areas of the country with first-rate research universities have done much better than other parts of the country since 2008. Business startups in San Francisco and Silicon Valley saw continued expansion during the recession because of the critical mass of highly educated and trained talent and great research universities. The startups continued despite the high taxes and Byzantine business regulations primarily because that is where the educated talent was located.
During this same period, Nevada reduced funding for our colleges and universities by $200 million. Utah, on theother hand, invested $179 million in its research universities at the start of the recession. The Utah investment reaped handsome returns, as evidenced by the 180 new technology companies formed as part of its university technology transfer programs. Earlier this month, the University of Utah successfully lured its second highly acclaimed Nevada engineering professor, along with his significant researchgrants. If low taxes and a favorable business climate are all that it takes, then why does Nevada still have the second-highest unemployment rate in the country? Why are new startups and existing businesses not flocking here? I suggest that our ranking on all measures of education plays a pivotal role.
The Board of Regents will continue to work to improve our universities and colleges with the funds we have been given. We will continue to squeeze every penny the state gives us and will continue to look to new ways to increase research funding and grants. But in order to successfully compete with states that commit significantly more money to fund research and education, Nevada needs to invest in higher education. We all need to keep in mind that Nevada’s success is dependent on the response to the initial question: What do we expect from our state-funded higher education system?
Rick Trachok is vice chairman of the Nevada System of Higher Education’s Board of Regents. He represents District 10 on the board.
Currently Serves as Vice Chairman
Rick Trachok today filed for reelection as Regent, District 10, on the Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents. Trachok, who was elected by the Board of Regents to serve as Vice Chairman in June 2013, was first named to the Board by Governor Brian Sandoval to fill a vacancy in August 2011. He was then elected to represent District 10 in 2012.
Trachok said, “There are a number of issues important to Nevada and northern Nevada in particular. These would include sharing services between the northern Nevada colleges and the university so we can focus more on teaching Nevadans while reducing operating overhead and administrative expenses.” Trachok feels that, “we have a great opportunity to reach even more Nevada students, especially our rural students, with online classes.” Additionally he declared that, “University of Nevada research and technology transfer holds great promise for businesses in our region. We are just starting to see some of these benefits as we transform Reno into a university town.”
Trachok has received a number of early endorsements for his candidacy, including Governor Brian Sandoval; Secretary of State Ross Miller; State Senators Debbie Smith, Greg Brower, and Ben Kieckhefer; Mayor Bob Cashell; former Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa; Kristen and Skip Avansino; Jennifer and Phil Satre; and others.
The recently completed legislative session resulted in two changes that impact the Nevada System of Higher Education and, particularly all northern campuses.
For the first time in five years, the state budget did not include cuts for higher education. To put this in perspective, the overall operating budgets for all eight colleges, universities, and the DRI were cut a total of 38% from 2008 through 2012.
More importantly the implementation of the new higher education state funding formula is a game changer in Nevada. Until the 2013 legislative session, all tuition and fees collected on each campus were allocated by the Legislature. The result was that over 2/3 of each institution’s budget came directly from the state. The process was neither transparent nor efficient and it gave no incentive to the colleges and universities to be entrepreneurial.
Each institution will now retain all tuition and fees generated on the respective campuses.
Under the new formula, for example, the Nevada taxpayers will contribute $88 million per year to the University of Nevada, Reno; 20% of its total $450 million annual budget. Although this is in line with other states as a percentage of state support, our overall expenditure per student is the lowest in the country as we simply do not have the research and education grants and private philanthropy of our sister states. The taxpayer contribution is now based on course and degree completion.
Today, each president is in control of his or her institution’s destiny. As more and more students, especially out of state students, choose Nevada to study, our universities and colleges’ revenues increase. The change also gives Nevada taxpayers a better idea of actual state support for these job creators.
Our two rural colleges, WNC and GBC, however, do not fare well under this new formula. The reason is that both colleges have far fewer students enrolled than those in the urban centers of Reno and Las Vegas. This results in significant cuts to both colleges over the next two years. This shortfall will be partially covered over the next two years with funds from the other colleges and universities. In the past, the rural colleges were provided what amounted to a “rural subsidy” in their funding. We cannot expect to see this again and must find new ways to reach rural Nevadans.
On a going forward basis, both WNC and GBC must address their high administrator-to-faculty ratios and other operational inefficiencies. The rural campuses must also increase their public and private grants and more closely align with local industry. In addition we must look to sharing services at all of our northern campuses: We as a state and system can no longer afford duplicative services. We as a board are committed to addressing these issues.