(Nevada News Bureau) – Gov. Brian Sandoval is considering giving Nevada’s higher education system more control to spend tuition and state funds.
As part of his budget, the governor may recommend a statutory change to allow colleges and universities more authority to manage their budgets with a lesser degree of legislative control, said Dale Erquiaga, the governor’s senior advisor.
“The universities would like to wean themselves away from the state budget,” Sandoval said this past Friday on Jon Ralston’s Face to Face television program. “The university system has told me they’d like to break away from that.”
Right now, the colleges and universities collect fees and tuition and pass the money along to the Legislature, which reapportions a percentage of that money back to the colleges and universities.
The change adds one more piece to a coalescing picture of the governor’s higher-education funding intentions as he prepares to deliver a budget at his State of the State address Jan. 24. This past week, he said he would like to divert local property tax revenue to fund the state’s community colleges.
This is in addition to what Sandoval has already said will be inevitable cuts to the higher education budget. The state’s Board of Regents would then vote on any tuition and fee increase to recoup the loss in state funding.
“We are not recommending tuition increases,” said Heidi Gansert, the governor’s chief of staff. “That’s their authority to raise tuition or not.”
Here, Gansert repeats an oft-mentioned message from the governor’s office: Cuts may come out of higher-education budgets, and funds may be shifted from local to state government, but it will be up to others to handle those losses. This allows the governor to stick to his no-tax-increases pledge.
So far, the state’s Board of Regents has welcomed the proposal to give colleges and universities more autonomy.
“I think it’s a good thing for the campuses,” said Jason Geddes, vice chairman of the Board of Regents. “It doesn’t lock in funding based on a biennial budget every time. It does allow a bit of flexibility for each individual campus.”
In the past special session, the Legislature has allowed for the board to have more control than in the past. But those changes were temporary.
“We’re hoping it will become a permanent thing,” Geddes said.
Sandoval’s support for a statutory change appears, in theory, similar to a proposal by his predecessor, Gov. Jim Gibbons, to make the higher education system more self-sufficient.
Universities and colleges have already proposed other types of changes to cope with sustained cuts these past few years. Some institutions are charging more – or less – for degree programs based on the cost of the major. For instance, a sciences course requiring a lab might cost more than a history class.
Nevada’s tuition rates have traditionally been lower than rates at institutions in most neighboring states. In-state tuition rates this year for the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and University of Nevada, Reno are $5,551.
But the Board of Regents has changed its funding model to reflect higher tuition with more financial aid. The effects to access and quality, though, can’t yet be measured.
“We won’t know until we get a little further into it since it is a new policy,” Geddes said.
Meanwhile, the state is 46th nationwide in higher education funding per capita, 45th in residents with a bachelor’s degree and 41st in the number of 18- to 24-year-olds who enroll in state universities, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education’s yearly almanac.