Nevada Legislature: High cost of state universities questioned
CARSON CITY, Nev. — Officials from the Nevada System of Higher Education told lawmakers on Wednesday, March 20, their registration and fees have risen faster than inflation in most of the past decade.
The system currently charges $224 per credit at UNR and UNLV. Vice Chancellor Crystal Abba said with all the other mandatory fees tacked on, that means a student taking 30 credits for two semesters of classes will pay $7,815.
She said that will rise to $233 per credit for the 2019-2020 school year and $242.25 in 2020-2021.
Assembly Majority Leader Teresa Benitez-Thompson pointed out all those costs are going up much faster than inflation.
“That would be intimidating to me,” she said. “I wonder how much of a barrier that is.”
Abba agreed saying fees have outpaced inflation in all but three of the past 25 years. She said the Board of Regents recognized that problem and has approved a policy that will index registration fees to inflation from now on.
UNR President Marc Johnson said on all those other fees, students are part of the process and get to vote on increases before they’re presented to the Regents.
He also pointed out even at current prices, Nevada’s universities are so much cheaper than those in California that students from there come here to go to school and pay double what Nevada residents pay.
But Ways and Means Chairman Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas, said that doesn’t help the students who can’t afford UNR or UNLV.
“The students who are voting on that are the students who could afford to,” she said. “You’re not including the students possibly at College of Southern Nevada who really wanted to go to UNR or UNLV but couldn’t afford it.”
Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, said the flip side of having a fee indexed to higher education inflation comes when the nation hits a recession.
“What happens when two years from now when we’re entering a recession and the state doesn’t have enough money to keep up,” he said.
Abba told him the regents have the authority to deviate from the inflation index and the goal isn’t to exceed inflation when setting fees.
Carlton said she’s concerned about how students handle the debt they incur getting an education.
“We’ve just accepted the fact there’s going to be debt,” she said.
Chancellor Thom Reilly said the key issue for Nevada’s universities is increasing graduation rates so students who attend get out with a degree that lands them a job.
UNR’s graduation rate is just 54.4 percent and UNLV is at only 40.6 percent.
“We have to increase graduation rates,” he said. “What works is when we advise students. Every student who comes to us should have an adviser.”
The system has also requested millions of dollars to support research activities. The campuses receive their primary funding through weighted student credit hours, but Reilly pointed out research doesn’t necessarily generate credit hours. He urged lawmakers to consider committing to put more than $130 million into those efforts over the next five years saying they would return next session with proof it’s working, generating economic development, getting high-tech jobs for graduates and bringing more industry to Nevada.
Johnson said industry is “very happy” with UNR’s focus on advanced engineering and their intent is to hire applied scientists and engineers to expand those efforts.
Kieckhefer expressed concern about making such a commitment when the system is asking for so many other things including a new medical building and engineering building in Las Vegas millions more for the Silver State Opportunity Grants and major pay increases for professors.
“There are a lot of asks out there in the budget,” he said.
The joint subcommittee of Senate Finance and Ways and Means took no action on the proposals, but asked NSHE officials to produce more data for them to review so, as Carlton put it, “we get it right.”
On top of launching its $10 million SLVR Fund — a nod to Nevada’s moniker as the Silver State — RNOX intends to bring its tech accelerator to Las Vegas in mid-2021, with eyes toward Salt Lake City or Boise as a third location.