Nevada 2.0 echoes system report: Education is the answer

NSHE report asserts that education spending will result in net savings

NV 2.0. Courtesy Photo.

The role of higher education and its potential effects on long-term economic growth are being touted by Nevada education officials as the key to the states future prosperity.

“Education is the first and most important building-block in developing Nevada’s new economy,” Nevada Senate Majority Leader Stephen Horsford told the audience at “Nevada 2.0: New Economies for a Sustainable Future,” a conference held Jan. 7 at UNLV.

A central concern among many state leaders is the capability of Nevada schools to provide the labor infrastructure for potential businesses.

“We can seek to attract companies to diversify our economy, but if we cannot show them a trained workforce to fill their jobs, they will look elsewhere,” Horsford said.

Among the literature that set the stage for Nevada 2.0 was a detailed report the Nevada System of Higher Education published in September on its plan for Nevada colleges and universities in the coming years.

The paper includes recommendations to the Legislature about how to allay growing concerns over state education spending and enrollment access.

Entitled “The State The System: NSHE Plan for Nevada’s Colleges and Universities,” the report maintains that future changes should not be limited to budgetary and administrative policy, but should extend to transforming the culture of higher education in Nevada.

In the paper, which is subtitled “Combining Excellence Austerity to Attain Success,” a key request is a restructuring of how the state appropriates its funding for schools.

NSHE calls for out-of-state student tuition and in-state student fees to be discounted from its larger state budget and recommends a possible cap on the percentage of out-of-state students in any given NSHE school.

The system has also commissioned an external review of the state’s funding formula, with the intention of “correcting misgivings about the equity of the current formula,” according to the report.

In addition, NSHE asks for a rainy day fund, to be paid for jointly with state appropriations and NSHE end-of-year funds that would otherwise go into the general fund.

The NSHE Board of Regents approved the formation of such a fund at their meetings Dec. 2 and 3, but the provision has yet to be approved by state lawmakers.

The report states that “the future use of these funds could occur only within carefully defined emergency circumstances established in partnership with the Nevada Legislature.”

Part of the requests for continued state funding made in the report come as a result of the institutions’ partnership with the Complete College America program, which endorses the official policy of the Department of Education to graduate significantly more degree holders in American colleges by the year 2020.

Complete College America founder and president Stan Jones presented a keynote address to attendees of Nevada 2.0, in which he advocated for a focus on community colleges as the places to rebuild a strong middle class in Nevada.

“In the middle of this recession where we don’t have people buying automobiles or buying houses, people are buying one thing in record-breaking levels,” Jones said, “and that’s education.”

NSHE has set a goal for its schools of around a thousand more graduates each year through 2020 and admits that the challenge will require strong support from both the state government and the colleges themselves.

“Unless NSHE institutions are strongly committed to efforts that improve recruiting, retaining and graduating students, NSHE will not meet this aggressive goal,” the report asserts.

Nevada’s potential for becoming a key research state is also discussed in the report, with NSHE recommending that external funding of the state’s three research institutions UNLV, the University of Nevada, Reno and the Desert Research Institute be increased along with workforce grants.

NSHE argues that its reviews of policy and its requests for state financial support, which this year will include a call for 25 percent more state money instead of the recommended 10 percent cut to the system budget, coincide with its plans for increasing efficiency. The report claims that “any savings will be redirected to build quality.”

Among these plans are the establishing of Accelerated Degree Programs, credit limitations for degree requirements and safeguards for academic programs graduating too few students.

NSHE has already put some of its recommendations into effect, including the internal review of some remedial and general education courses, with the intention of consolidating cost and preserving educational quality.

Finally, on the topic of financial assistance, the NSHE report expresses a need to disburse more funds to students based on need and to both encourage low-income students to apply for federal financial aid and protect them from possible tuition increases.

“The state can still afford to keep growing the more expensive pathway of lifelong dependence on the state through social services and corrections, when, for a much lower cost, education provides a robust and positive outcome for both individuals and state budgets,” the report says.

In light of events like Nevada 2.0, which engage a state-wide discussion concerning the diversification of the Nevada economy, NSHE has taken a definitive stance on the role of higher education in the economic future of the state.

“Partnership with public education must stop being a catch phrase,” the report states in closing, “and become a way of doing business.”

Contact Ian Whitaker at [email protected]

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