Dear Friend of Higher Education:
Below are remarks I delivered to the Board of Regents today regarding the future of the Nevada System of Higher Education:
Thank you for this opportunity to introduce the second half of this presentation - your review of the campus budget reduction plans.
Since the adjournment of the 76th session of the Legislature last week, all of us have been asked many, many times:
"Well, you got some more money, so everything will be OK, right?"
Let me get a few things out of the way right up front:
- We acknowledge the state is suffering through possibly the worst fiscal crisis in its history.
- We appreciate the additional appropriations added by the final budget compromise and acknowledge that these additional funds significantly mitigated the impacts of the original budget reduction plans we shared with you.
- We know it could have been much worse.
This budget has real short- and long-term consequences.
It is not "OK," nor is the Nevada System of Higher Education "OK."
And we do not accept "it could have been a lot worse" as the banner under which we will march forward.
This afternoon, I will try to stay to the same three rules that I set forth for legislative presentations:
- No whining.
- No moralizing/personal attacks.
- Don't say something we are not prepared to do.
It is the last tenet - honesty and credibility - that we want to focus on.
We have discussed since January how this budget had the potential to change higher education in Nevada.
I am here to tell you today that it has done exactly that.
I know you will review budget reduction plans today. I hope you approve them - you have eight dedicated, engaged, seasoned presidents working together as a team.
They need and deserve your support!
But as you review those plans we would like you to focus on what are the policy implications of this budget and these plans:
More than ever we need a cohesive team of unique institutions woven together into a seamless system.
You have presidents committed to that basic principle.
And lest you think that is a throwaway statement, let's stop right now. It means that Dr. Smatresk does not make a decision for UNLV without considering how it impacts CSN, NSC or DRI - no matter how good it might be for UNLV.
Limited resources imply rethinking of policies that a year or two ago would not have been thinkable. Everything turns on capacity and quality - the first now limited; the second, in our opinion, not up for grabs.
We must acknowledge that the access mission of our community colleges and, to some extent, NSC, is gone. We will work to establish and bring to you admission standards for the first time.
Guaranteed and seamless transfer among our institutions is at risk.
While we all confirm our commitment to the ideals and goals of Complete College America, we must realistically evaluate how we get there in this resource constrained environment.
An active, engaged substantive partnership with K-12 can't be a bumper sticker. It must be a way of life for us. Remediation is a national disgrace and an unacceptable fiscal sinkhole. We must own it, understand it, and work with our partners in K-12 to, over time, eliminate it.
What all this implies is a cohesive quality and success driven system enrollment management plan.
The presidents and I pledge to bring you just such a plan this fall.
I don't know today what it might look like, but I can give you some thoughts.
We must be driven by performance. Our graduation numbers and rates must increase.
We must focus our limited resources where they will make a difference and understand that we cannot and indeed, should not, think we can help or serve everyone.
It kills me to say that.
We call for every high school junior to take a standardized test, like the ACT, to assist diagnostics and placement. This will require work with our school districts and the preparation of education.
In addition to long-term policy considerations that you must wrestle with, there are short-term implications. I have directed the presidents to cut off applications for enrollment earlier than they previously have. I flirted with mandating a systemwide cut-off of July 15 - and I think that date makes sense for many institutions, but the presidents will know best what date works for them.
But today, the word has to go out from this room and this Board that no longer can we say "Well, I can always go to college here in Nevada."
As we accept this reality we must acknowledge our critical responsibility to be sure that our core value of service to a diverse population is not sacrificed.
And finally, what about entrepreneurship?
We accept the challenge and reality that we must become more self-sustaining over time.
Indeed, I have given the presidents metrics in this regard on which they will be evaluated.
But we cannot turn that corner overnight, nor do policies that furlough our entrepreneurial faculty or establish a Knowledge Fund without resources advance our ability to move that needle.
I offer these remarks hopefully to frame your consideration of the budget reduction plans you will hear and review today.
You have presidents who, with their engaged faculty, staff, students and communities, are bringing you plans to deal with these budget cuts.
There are not perfect...how could they be?
But as you review them, I ask that you keep your focus on these critical policy questions.