(Ryan Hamilton) – State Sen. John Lee is right to re-evaluate the funding formula that assesses how higher education is funded in Nevada. His efforts to give more money to UNLV, however, are not likely to yield meaningful improvements without addressing the layers of problems that exist in the system presently — obstacles that keep the university at the bottom of nearly every ranking index. To start meaningful discussion of reform and improvement one must ask: Why does UNLV exist?
From my perspective, that answer is crystal clear.
First, UNLV exists to provide Southern Nevada with highly qualified graduates that contribute to the economic health and overall well-being of the community.
Second, UNLV exists to provide research on and insight into the issues that challenge this region – energy use, climate, tourism, etc. – to provide a body of knowledge that helps plan a future course.
To be sure, UNLV does not exist to subsidize the limbo period in the lives of so many rudderless youth who are not yet prepared to take on the full responsibility of adulthood and opt to take taxpayer subsidized courses at UNLV with no meaningful intention of ever taking a degree and using their education to contribute to Southern Nevada or another community.
It most certainly does not exist to provide students who have neglected their high school education with remedial classes to bring them up to speed for university work for which they were likely never even qualified in the first place. On the same note, this university —funded by the people and businesses of the state —is not a place to push political agendas or ideology. Multicultural programs and professionally staffed diversity offices should be permanently shuttered and consigned to the trash heap of history. Would anyone even notice?
UNLV does not exist as a place to employ administrators, deans, professors, academicians, custodians, student government types, lunch ladies and every class and manner of worker who looks at the institution as a paycheck and spends a portion of their wage to elect and lobby politicians who oppose real reform and work to preserve the business-as-usual mentality which has kept UNLV in the bottom tier of university rankings since such records were kept.
Step one to improvement — before any budget revisions, before the hiring and firing of employees, before re-working the outrageous funding formula — has to be an admission along these lines. Admitting one has a problem (in this case, beyond the usual droning incantations of “we need more money”) is the starting point in any recovery process.
I am not unaware that it might be difficult to make this admission. By its nature it excludes a good number of people who are attending this university, who are reading this article, from pursuing future, futile coursework at UNLV. It likely upsets the employees who “work” in the diversity office pushing paper from one bin to another and lobbying for increased budgets to host some kind of multicultural event. This, however, is not a defense to the argument laid out above. If one can agree that UNLV should produce well-educated graduates then the rest falls into place.
After that admission, the second thing that can be done is a measured increase in admissions requirements. Applicants to undergraduate programs who have demonstrated no aptitude for schooling in the past should not expect to come to UNLV and enroll in a remedial course to bring them up to speed. The university recently started requiring applicants to take the SAT or ACT – this is a step in the right direction.
College is not for everyone. In many cases, the public school system does an enormous disservice to students who are plainly not cut out for school an by making them feel forced into a university program. The university is, and has been, complicit in this process by admitting them. They languish in classes, oftentimes for years, when viable alternatives – trade schools, gaining valuable work experience – slip away with the sands of time.
The result is a person no better prepared for post-schooling life and a university that has sunk public money into an investment that will never be returned. Demanding more from applicants would help alleviate this problem and have the consequence of raising the university’s reputation and desirability.
Students who slack off or take more than five years for a bachelor’s should be put into a pay scheme that is different from hard-working students looking to get educated and get out in a reasonable time frame. People who work and go to school excepted, there is no good reason that local students cannot complete a bachelor’s degree in five years. Failure to do so should mean applicable students eat the full, unsubsidized cost of completing their degree.
Next, the administration can get real. This application season no fewer than five high school students (these I know personally — my suspicion is that nearly everyone admitted had a similar experience) received duplicate messages confirming admission to UNLV. That’s double postage, double stationary, double ink – double costs. This bonehead move demonstrative of utter carelessness and lack of attention to detail should be career-ending in a university that loves to cry poverty.
Reception employees can be consolidated. The student government’s budget, about which I have written at length, should be slashed to be one-tenth of what it is – $100,000 instead of $1 million. No more diversity office. Programs not pedagogical or research related should have across the board cuts.
Only at this point will any re-evaluation of the funding formula be worthwhile. Giving UNLV more money at this point is distributing it for use as toilet paper in the campus bathrooms – except there it would actually serve a useful purpose.
This article originally appeared in The Rebel Yell. – Ed.