(Phillip Moyer/Nevada News Bureau) – Last week, the Nevada Board of Regents held a meeting in what marks the beginning of nine weeks of discussion on how to further reduce their budgets to adjust for the 6.9 percent cut in funding agreed upon by Nevada Legislators during the special session in February.
In preparation, UNLV has compiled a list of its 20 most expensive programs to review as a starting point for the cuts, and UNR has released a list of programs that it will consider for closure, including bachelors degrees in animal science and animal biotechnology, bachelors and masters degrees in statistics and doctorate degrees in anthropology, history and political science.
Reducing the impact through cuts to unpopular programs
UNR Provost Marc Johnson said he does not think the cuts at UNR will greatly damage the University’s ability to prepare students to diversify the economy. He pointed out that many of the programs that are most relevant to modern industry, such as the university’s business school and its programs in digital and visual media, will remain intact.
Johnson emphasized that, although the programs under consideration for cuts may be valuable, they are those in which students show little interest. Only about 340 of the university’s 12,000 students are enrolled in the programs that are on the chopping block. Other programs with higher numbers of students, such as biology and psychology, will not be considered for cuts.
“All of these programs have been important to someone, but when you’re going from $33 million in cuts to $44 million, you’re going to lose some valuable but smaller programs,” he said.
Johnson also pointed to the curricular review proposal that UNR will use to decide which cuts will be made. The proposal says the process will be guided by the university’s Institutional Strategic Plan, which lists goals such as: “Prepare Nevada and Nevadans for the diversified knowledge economy” and “Cooperate to prepare Nevada youth to participate in the world economy through education.”
When discussing the process of making cuts, Clark County Regent Mark Alden pointed to previous reductions made by UNLV after the 2009 legislative session, which, along with cutting enrollments and personnel, made cuts to programs that few students were enrolled in, while those programs that Nevada’s economy needs were kept intact.
“If there wasn’t a demand for [the classes], they were cut. Students aren’t going for those classes, why have them?” Alden said.
Alden also said that although the new set of cuts will be rough, it will give the universities a chance to become more efficient, saying that the cuts force “some of the fluff out of universities.”
Response to lack of cuts to athletics, arts
Alden defended the lack of proposed cuts to the UNLV Athletics Department, saying the department is 70-80 percent self-supporting and is on track to become completely self-supporting in five years.
Johnson, when asked about the lack of proposed cuts to fine arts and cultural-centric programs, for which there are few jobs in today’s economy, replied that an education at UNR isn’t just about preparing students for the immediate future.
“When students come to college to prepare for a career in an educational field, they’re planning for the next 40 years,” Johnson said. “They need to study their interest area. Even if during the next five years, there aren’t many jobs, their education is valid for the next 40 years.”
Focusing on jobs
Bruce James, the chairman of the Nevada Spending and Government Efficiency Commission (SAGE), thinks that during a financial crisis such as this recession, state universities need to focus on what he considers their most important mission: preparing students for jobs in the near future. He suggested that universities gather together the 25 largest employers and talk about what jobs they will have available in the next five to ten years. The programs offered that would prepare students for these jobs should be bolstered, he said, while the programs that don’t should be cut.
“The temptation is to reduce funding across the board, but that will diminish the university,” James said. “Instead, we have a giant opportunity to evaluate and refocus our resources to these programs that have a big public benefit.”
James declined to comment on which cuts he thinks should be made, saying that such decisions need to be determined by the universities themselves. He did say, however, that universities cannot afford to keep their more obscure, “esoteric” programs in the current economic climate.
“If there is a reason for them to exist, the private sector will pick them up,” he said. “If there is a demand and a market for it, it will be filled. Taxpayers can’t afford to do what we’re doing now. It doesn’t matter if we want to or not. We have no money.”
Carson City Regent Ron Knecht agreed it is important to consider what programs will aid students in finding jobs, but he did not think that this consideration should be limited to jobs in Nevada since many students may wish to seek jobs out of state. Nor did he think universities should focus specifically on industries that are popular at present.
“Education is preparation for the rest of your life, in a sense – both job-wise and otherwise,” he said. “This or that may temporarily have a lot of openings, but that will change in five to ten years, and people have to be prepared for the various opportunities for the job market in the future.”
Knecht said that teaching students strong fundamentals such as communication skills, analytical skills and math skills is more important than classes specifically aimed at certain jobs or industries. These core classes, Knecht said, would allow students to become “well-educated, good citizens” whose educational background will help them in any number of professions.
Knecht also suggested that increasing tuition for programs with a higher cost per student, such as those listed by UNLV, would be more desirable that making substantial cuts to the programs
“If [the courses] have a lot of value to people in those programs, they’ll pay it because the class and the degree is worth it to them,” he said.
Chancellor, senior vice provost defend university’s present budget and curriculum
Dan Klaich, chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education, claims the cuts will adversely affect the universities’ ability to make Nevada’s industries more competitive.
“We can’t keep reducing the budget to the extent that we have, and continue to have the same amount of students, and the same amount of offerings,” he said. “It has to have an effect on our ability to educate the proper workforce, or to attract new businesses.”
Klaich did agree, however, that the universities will have to consider the comparative and potential effects cuts may have on the future of Nevada’s workforce when deciding where reductions should be made.
Michael Bowers, UNLV’s senior vice provost for academic affairs, said he also believes the budget cuts will damage programs that would contribute to the state’s economic success. The 6.9 percent budget cut, he said, coupled with cuts from last year’s session, make it impossible for the university to operate at the level it does now.
Bowers said, however, that the university will mitigate damage by avoiding making cuts to programs that are of national repute, such as the Boyd School of Law, and that they will look into which programs have been the most successful.
“We want to keep the programs with excellent faculty and successful students, which serve the community and serve the state,” Bowers said. “As to the extent that we can save those, that’s yet to be determined. It’s way too early in the process.”
Bowers estimated that recommendations as to what cuts the university should make will be submitted to a committee of faculty and administrators by mid-March, which will then consider which recommendations should be passed on to the University president. He hopes that after a “very long and involved process of consultation with faculty, staff and students,” UNLV will have a budget plan to submit to the board of regents by its June 3 meeting.
UNLVhas dealt with previous budget cuts by reducing funding to campus facilities, building repair and maintenance. Hiring for vacant positions was frozen.
Bachelors degrees in university studies, physical food and beverage management, fitness management and health sciences were eliminated, along with masters degrees in physical therapy and French. UNLV had also previously made a total of $900,000 in reductions to its Law School, Dental School and Athletics department.
UNR has previously cut its budget by closing 281 university positions, offering 96 fewer class sections than the previous year, increasing tuition, cutting down on enrollment and executing a state-mandated furlough program that cut the cost of classified staff and non-tenure faculty by 4.6 percent.
UNR also has closed its Student Career Services program, Writing Center and Equestrian center. It also found alternate funding sources for its Mining Engineering Program, Math Center, Oral History Center and Marching band. Several administrative services were also downsized.