Nevada's higher education downward spiral
Despite the political rhetoric from both parties and constant agitation of numerous advocacy groups, Nevadans really don’t value education much at all.
Consider these facts. Nevada has the lowest number of children enrolled in preschool in the nation, and still doesn’t have full-day kindergarten available at every public school. We consistently rank 49th or 50th in per capita K-12 education spending and have a low percentage of residents with a college degree.
During the recession, Nevada slashed its education budget at all levels and officials responded by cutting programs and raising tuition.
As the economy improves, higher education regents insist they will bully the Nevada Legislature into restoring lost funding. Meanwhile, they look to students to shoulder more of the financial burden, arguing the cost of education in Nevada has always been a bargain.
Public education is supposed to be the grand equalizer in our country, providing an opportunity for those who work hard to succeed in life. But shifting a higher percentage of the cost from state taxpayers to students has resulted in pricing many students out of the market, thus reducing their potential lifetime earnings exponentially.
According to the Reno Gazette-Journal, over the past decade, tuition and fees for Nevada residents have risen an average of 137 percent. The cost to attend community college has gone up about 76 percent.
Last month, on a 7 to 6 vote, the Nevada Board of Regents approved an additional 17 percent increase in tuition over the next four years, insisting the funding is needed to lower class sizes, increase research capacity, provide more needs-based aid for low-income students, and cope with inflation.
Meanwhile, the oblivious University of Nevada Foundation in Las Vegas enticed Hillary Clinton to speak at its annual dinner for a mere $225,000, a ridiculous price tag for a group dedicated to raising money to support the university.
Regent Jason Geddes penned an editorial in several newspapers stating he made it through college in Nevada with a full-time job, scholarships and student loans, implying today’s students should do the same. But why should we make it even harder for them?
I can’t help but remember my own experience as a California high school graduate in 1973 from a working class family with no college fund. In those days, high-quality junior colleges were free to residents. I chose a state school over the University of California system because the tuition was lower.
I worked half-time at the campus library and earned a bachelor’s degree in three years, thanks to the policy of unlimited credits for one price, graduating debt-free, something unimaginable today for someone of a similar economic background.
It’s sad to see what’s become of California’s superb higher education system. They’ve clearly rejected the idea that lower-income students should be able to go to college without incurring a huge amount of debt.
As candidates jockey for position in the months ahead, it would be refreshing to hear more debate about reinvesting in education instead of devising more business subsidies to supposedly create jobs that our under-educated populace won’t be able to fill. The Legislature may throw a bone or two to higher education, but there are many other areas of the state budget with chronic underfunding and the competition for scarce new dollars will be fierce.
It’s ironic that the same people demonizing the Education Initiative, a corporate tax aimed at just 13 percent of businesses in Nevada that pay a similar tax in nearly every other state, are the ones demanding Tier 1 status, a medical school in Las Vegas, and the expansion of research capability.
They want it all, as long as they don’t have to pay for it. And if you’re from a less privileged economic background and unwilling to mortgage your future with mounds of debt, well, there’s always a casino or service industry job awaiting you.