Someone’s serving up whoppers

Myth-busting the higher education budget cuts

By Patrick R. Gibbons
  • Tuesday, February 3, 2009

False statistics have been floating around the subject of Nevada higher education ever since Gov. Gibbons announced his proposed budget.


The two biggest distortions come from Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Jim Rogers and Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley. According to Rogers, students face a 225 percent tuition increase if taxes aren’t raised to restore higher-ed spending. And, according to some “quick calculations” from the Buckley camp, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas faces a 52 percent budget cut.


In each case, the figures are false. Here’s why.


MYTH 1: Raising tuition 225 percent


Yes, the Nevada System of Higher Education faces some pretty large cuts—but let's put them in perspective. Since the 2001-02 school year, appropriations for NSHE have seen an annual growth rate of 7.9 percent per year—a rate over three times higher than inflation over that same period.


As it turns out, the Gibbons budget cuts bring NSHE annual growth down to a more reasonable 2.7 percent per year. Raising tuition would thus merely be a way that NSHE could attempt to continue that unsustainable rate of growth.


Basically, the Nevada System of Higher Education had promised itself some huge budget boosts that couldn’t be delivered. Gibbons’ proposed budget simply confronts Nevada’s lofty Ivory Tower with reality.


Because Rogers wants to maintain the unsustainable growth rate, he has unsheathed the politically potent threat to raise tuition. His numbers, however, appear suspect at best. According to, the governor’s Open Government website, appropriations for UNLV will be $174 million for FY 2009-10 while promised appropriations for FY 2008-09 were $253 million. The difference is $79 million.



  FY 2006 FY 2007 FY 2008 FY 2009 FY 2010 FY 2011
UNLV Total $222.0 $231.5 $253.1   $174.1 $174.6
UNLV General Fund $148.4 $149.9 $168.9   $83.3 $78.5
UNR Total $164.7 $171.9 $181.1   $125.6 $127.0
UNR General Fund $121.1 $123.9 $132.3   $72.4 $70.7
NSHE Total $724.1 $751.1 $842.4 $818**  $638.4 $648.2
NSHE General Fund $548.6 $577.8 $630.9   $424.3 $419.6

Figures are in millions of dollars. *source, **an estimation: 2007 appropriation levels minus $94 million in cuts to date. FY 2006-08 are actual budget figures. FY 2010 and FY 2011 are proposed budgets. There is currently no FY 2009 Actual.


If the $79 million difference were entirely divided among UNLV’s roughly 28,000 students, the tuition increase would be some $2,820—raising total tuition to about $6,620 per year (excluding fees). That’s a 74 percent increase. This of course assumes all the students are full-time, which is not the case. A 225 percent increase would see tuition rise to over $12,500, but to reach this tuition figure one must assume roughly half of UNLV students attend college for free.


Assuming part-time students make up about a third of the population, we could expect tuition to increase to about $8,000 per year in order to maintain the unsustainable growth rate. That’s an increase of just 110 percent, a far cry from Rogers’ claimed 225 percent.


What is the average per-year tuition cost for four-year public universities across America? According to the National Center for Education Statistics, as of the 2006-07 school year it was $5,685. Despite the hysteria, tuition costs at UNLV would still be receiving significant subsidies.


MYTH 2: UNLV’s budget will be cut 50 percent


What about the Buckley camp’s claim that the governor’s proposed budget will devastate higher education by reducing UNLV’s budget by 52 percent? In actuality, only appropriations to UNLV from the state general fund would be cut—reduced by approximately 50 percent, from the $168 million promised for 2008 to $83 million for 2010. But remember: State general fund spending is just part of all UNLV revenue.


The total cuts to UNLV and UNR? Less than 15 percent of the schools’ total operating budgets—unpleasant, to be sure, but hardly the catastrophe ballyhooed.


Anyone who claims UNLV is facing a 50 percent budget cut is either confusing general fund appropriations with total budgets, or simply manipulating statistics to panic uninformed people. Serving up whoppers, in other words.




When you read or hear figures bandied about, be careful. Billions of dollars are at stake, and thousands of people thirst for the money. Some may not have enough scruples to resist manipulating statistics to dupe an unknowing media or public.


Click here for more information on the Nevada System of Higher Education and its state appropriations.


Patrick R. Gibbons is an education policy analyst at the Nevada Policy Research Institute.

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