For one hundred years, higher education has been a primary gateway to a better life for Americans. People with college degrees make more money, divorce less, live longer and secure a better future for their children than people without a degree. In fact, despite its many flaws, the American system of higher education is the envy of the world, attracting students from every corner of the globe.
And yet today, when the state of Nevada already has the fewest students who go on to college in the nation, it stands on the precipice of limiting access, reducing the quality, and narrowing the breadth of higher education for Nevadans. If the governor's budget passes intact, consider the following:
• UNR will lose two colleges, including the teacher preparation function of the College of Education; eight majors; and with reductions in the Department of Mathematics students will be unable to get classes needed for graduation and professional training.
• UNLV will lose 12 departments and 36 other degree programs, 325 positions including 135 faculty lines (102 occupied by tenure-earning faculty) and over 2000 currently enrolled students
• NSC, who has lost 19 percent of its full-time faculty while growing 40 percent in student enrollment since 2008, will be forced to offer fewer sections of classes and increase class sizes by over 25 percent.
• DRI has suffered from substantial faculty losses, with 23 departures since 2008. Without state funding to invest in recruitment, retention, and new research initiatives, this trend will continue, and will likely accelerate, into the coming years.
• CSN expects a reduction of enrollment by approximately 2,478 FTE in FY 2013 and an estimated loss of 9,275 headcount, for 12,336 seats on top of the estimated 5,000 students already turned away in Fall 2010
• GBC faces the elimination of at least 120 more sections or approximately 3000 seats in 2012 and an additional 60 sections or another 1,500 seats in 2013. Over thirty positions will be eliminated.
• TMCC already has condensed five academic units into two and expects to serve 6,000 fewer students. From 2006 to 2011 TMCC has seen a reduction of staffing over 38 percent.
• WNC plans to close 7 satellite facilities, reduce the number of class sections offered and lose seven tenured faculty.
• NSHE is considering a 12-13 percent hike in student tuition and fees for both 2012 and 2013, a cumulative increase of nearly 30 percent - on top of the 20 percent increase that has occurred in the last 2 years.
This systematic dismantling of higher education is being done on the basis of false facts. Before this recession, Nevada already had the smallest state general fund in the country (when viewed as a share of the state economy), the fewest public employees in the nation, and the fewest working in higher education. Further, Nevada state employees are not overpaid. In fact, when educational level and work experience are taken into account, they are slightly underpaid.
Moreover, the budget shortfall we are experiencing today may be a large share of our small state budget, but it is only 1 percent of our state economy. The governor asserts that state government spending is out of control; this is untrue given any comparative data. The governor has not considered options providing a balance of cuts and revenues. In fact, his budget, by refusing to consider the so-called "Sunsetted Taxes," removes revenues created to sustain the state through our unprecedented budget crisis. The problem we face is not too big to solve, provided the governor will come to the table to find a balanced solution.
In the face of these facts, the governor claims that increasing taxes is bad policy, especially during a recession. But again he is simply mistaken. Economic theory and all the evidence contradict his premise. These spending cuts will hurt the economy much worse, in both the short and the long run, than providing adequate funds for the universities, state college, and community colleges. Indeed, the fact that Nevada has suffered in this recession more than any other states has not been because we spent too much on education, but too little. Other states, even those Western states with severe housing bubbles, have recovered faster because they had a more educated population and were better able to adapt to new employment and investment opportunities.
Finally, these actions are rooted in the wrong values. The governor's budget is built on the notion that Nevadans are, and should be, only out for themselves. It pits small business against government workers, parents against teachers, consumers against taxpayers, the old against the young. But if, as this budget promises, a few of us succeed at the expense of the rest, we will all have failed. Higher education is a public good. When one of us is educated, it benefits all of us. When one of us is denied this opportunity, we all lose.
Given these facts, we believe that the governor's proposed budget is not an effort to solve a crisis, but rather an effort to use a crisis for ideological purposes, to take advantage of this recession to force a significant scaling back of public education. We believe the advocates of this approach oppose the public university on principle.
We, the faculty of the Nevada System of Higher Education, declare that what the Governor's budget proposes to do with higher education is wrong. It is wrong on the facts. It furthers the wrong values. It charts the wrong course for Nevada's future.
• Eric Herzik is the chair of the UNR Faculty Senate.