Dear Friend of Higher Education:
When I was appointed chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education a little over a year and a half ago, I spoke plainly about the importance of education and later, of my dreams for a new Nevada. A revitalized state with a new and vibrant higher education system. A Nevada that would provide all of our citizens with the opportunity to shape and build their own future. A Nevada where we would break the cycle of generational poverty through education. A Nevada where we would produce a new generation of involved citizens and taxpayers who would lead us in diversifying our economy and reenergizing our great state, our home.
We had just completed a historic round of budget cuts and my goal was to put the past behind us and move forward. We needed to concentrate our energies on improving our effectiveness, increasing our efficiency and becoming an even better investment for Nevada. We needed to align our System with the goals of the state and private business. We needed to assure Nevadans that we knew reform was necessary and that we embraced it. Working with the presidents of our System institutions, and with the guidance of the Board of Regents, we put that plan before the state's leaders. We then gathered data to show what a solid investment higher education was in our communities. We planned to be full and active partners in pulling our state out of this cruel depression.
Yet within months, we faced another round of cuts. And now, here we are again, facing cuts that make our previous reductions pale in comparison. We are certainly creating a new Nevada, but one far from my dreams in 2009.
In response to requests from the Legislature and the Board of Regents, budget reduction plans have been presented that meet the funding levels recommended in the governor's budget.
NSHE's eight campus presidents and I have consistently stated the proposed budget reductions will dramatically impact higher education, and in particular, access to education. We believe it is important you understand that budget cuts to the level proposed in the executive budget will result in an entirely new business model for higher education in Nevada.
I want to be clear that we do not believe these recommendations, driven by the magnitude of the cuts, are in the short-term or long-term best interest of the State of Nevada. Yet, our responses to these cuts are not fiction. They are real. It is simple business math. If we lose X, then we must eliminate Y.
In the short term, these reductions will lead to greater unemployment and withdraw critical dollars from the state economy. The presidents and I believe these factors and other intangibles associated with downsizing higher education will worsen and prolong Nevada's economic depression. They will not assist in its recovery.
In the long run, the plan will limit access and opportunity to thousands of Nevadans either by limiting enrollment or pricing higher education out of reach. Again, both of these results will have negative long-term effects on our economy and the quality of life we all seek to secure.
Matching Funds at Risk
One of the cornerstones of NSHE's plan for higher education has been our commitment, along with that of Governor Sandoval, to the Complete College America consortium. This group is dedicated to producing a greater number of graduates and certificate completers in Nevada and across the country. While it is difficult to predict the future of this critical effort before our budget is finalized, should the level of cuts recommended in the governor's budget come to be, it is clear that our continued participation in the consortium and its laudable and important goals will have to be re-evaluated. Our consideration for millions of dollars directed at areas of critical reforms will be impacted if we are unable to commit resources to this consortium.
We must be honest that enrollment in NSHE has been capped for years as classes have filled and fees have increased. It is time to be even more forthright about our ability to serve the Nevadans who want to avail themselves of higher education and the promise of a better life that comes with it. With budget reductions at the level displayed in these plans, our institutions will cap enrollment. Enrollment caps are very difficult to implement, particularly for the first time. I will work with our presidents, faculty and students to bring recommendations to the Board that are fundamentally fair. We must be particularly mindful of low income and first generation students who are disproportionately students of color.
With this budget, we can no longer pretend that any student who is qualified to be accepted by our institutions will actually gain access to classes, support services, financial aid, or a degree. In order to protect the integrity of our educational enterprise, we will guarantee only the following: Students who are admitted or enrolled at our institutions who attend full time, maintain at least a 2.0 GPA, follow a course of study that will lead to a degree or certificate within the prescribed required credits will be guaranteed early registration, priority for need-based financial aid, and the opportunity to complete a degree or certificate within a reasonable time.
No Admissions Guarantee to Qualified Students
We can no longer guarantee any student who meets our minimum qualifications admission to our two universities or to Nevada State College. In this biennium, with this budget, students will be turned away due to limited resources. We will use the resources given to NSHE by the state to educate the students we can with excellence but we will no longer be able to fulfill a longstanding mission of the Board of Regents to improve the number of college educated citizens. We cannot accommodate every qualified student.
No Open Enrollment at Community Colleges
We can no longer guarantee enrollment at our community colleges for all who come to our doors. The access mission of our community colleges will no longer be a priority for the state. Degree or certificate seeking students will be given first preference, followed by vocational technical program enrollees in areas critical to the state's workforce needs. We will develop strategies to deal with this change that will include admissions testing and the requirement of a high school diploma, while still being sensitive to the diverse needs of our student population.
No Transfer Guarantees
We must seriously evaluate the transfer mission of our community colleges in light of the above changes. We can no longer guarantee that every student who qualifies to transfer from our community colleges to the universities or to the state college will be able to do so. If we promise our students a reasonably smooth path to degree, we must avoid upper division bottlenecks that could result from unlimited transfers. This is another very significant change in our policy and may have a very negative impact on students, particularly those who cannot afford to begin their studies full time at one of our universities. Again, we are forced to prioritize our limited resources to focus on those full-time degree seeking students. Implementation of this change will require discussion among faculty and students before making final recommendations to the Board.
We will offer classes at fewer locations. In particular our rural locations will suffer as the NSHE focuses limited resources on serving the greatest number of students. We will do our best with technology to continue to provide some offerings, but "live" classes will diminish significantly.
This business model will require that we fully evaluate policies as they impact the many part-time students in our System who, because of their personal and family circumstances, cannot attend full time. Naturally, we will do our best to accommodate these worthy students, many who are working and supporting families as they improve their skills. However, they will be impacted as restricted resources require tighter enrollment management and planning.
We anticipate a drop in enrollment in excess 15% over the biennium, based on program elimination, site closures, fewer numbers of classes offered, increased fees, and inadequate tutoring and support services. Until resources improve, this drop will be a cap on future enrollment. We anticipate that more than 20,000 qualified students (more than 8,300 FTE's) who wish to take advantage of higher education will be turned away, students who will likely leave to attend postsecondary institutions in other states and who will be unlikely to return to Nevada.
Less Financial Aid
We cannot guarantee adequate financial aid for students based on need, but will work hard to provide such aid for as many students as possible. Again, priority will be given to full time degree-seeking and certificate-seeking students.
Lost Revenue from Non-State Sources
Research and workforce grants in the state will in all likelihood decline as resources for matching funds dry up and as our best and most entrepreneurial faculty are "cherry picked" by other institutions across the nation. Many outside of education do not realize that grant moneys are tied to a faculty member, not the institution. When a professor leaves NSHE, the grant funding follows to the professor to the new institution.
As we have consistently advised policymakers, this selective destruction of our best faculty - being picked off by institutions and states where the future seems more stable and supportive - has already begun and should be expected to accelerate. The impact will not only limit the expansion that innovative research can foster, but will negatively impact our leveraging capability by reducing the revenues that our research institutions can generate to help themselves produce budget support.
The loss of tenured faculty from UNLV and UNR will also decrease access to upper division course work and graduate programs. We pledge our best efforts to work with private businesses and the state economic development infrastructure, but we want to be clear that supporting new business initiatives while retrenching across the board is an oxymoron. We will work closely with all interested parties to align our programs wherever possible to provide such support.
Protecting What's Left
We know that many of the difficult decisions we are forced to make will bring out constituent voices who object to center, program and institutional closures and consolidations. Every such action is taken with a strong awareness that we are losing a program valuable to Nevada that may never return. There are no good choices here. While we will continue to do our best to protect our core missions, let me be clear that our institutions are being dismantled.
Throughout this process, I have promised to be honest with you. I have told you that we will not say something or put something before you that we are not prepared to do. The budget plan clearly states what we must do to meet the governor's budget.
There is no sugar coating. There is no drama. It is a simple matter of business. If you believe Nevadans should invest in our education system and our future, I encourage you to contact Governor Sandoval and your state legislators. They answer to you...the voters who put them in office to make Nevada a better place to call home.
They need to hear your voice. It is time to get off the sidelines. The stakes are just too high for you not to get involved.