Higher ed can survive budget cuts

Patrick Gibbons

*Why is Wal-Mart, which is run by men and women with high school degrees, still able to keep its doors open to customers, while higher education – run by men and women with doctoral degrees – can’t seem to get its act together? Unfortunately, your local media didn’t ask that question.

Education in Nevada has cried for two years that we’ve cut to the bone. It is time to drop the hyperbole and face the facts.

Nevada’s legislature raised taxes at the beginning of an economic boom. Those boom taxes spurred a growth in boom government. Then in 2009, the legislature again raised taxes in order to sustain that boom government.

We didn’t make any significant cuts last year. Truth be told, Nevada’s government is in need of liposuction still.

Last year Jim Rogers and Barbara Buckley complained about “large” budget cuts, which in reality turned out to be a fraction of a fraction of total higher-education spending in the state. The same is true today.

And it is not like the extra spending made UNR and UNLV any better. Both universities spend above the median level compared to other public universities and both still fail to graduate at least half their students AFTER SIX YEARS!

But what is more disturbing than the ballyhoo about the size of the budget cuts is how much higher education in Nevada has lost its focus on the students.

Here is a taste from the Las Vegas Sun:

Cutting $110 million from the budget will mean an estimated 15,750 students would be unable to enroll in the Nevada System of Higher Education, a decrease of 14 percent from 2009’s enrollment, Chancellor Klaich said. And more than 1,000 full-time faculty and staff would lose their jobs.

Think about this for a moment. What kind of business loses revenue and shuts its doors to 15,750 customers? None.

So why does higher education act like budget cuts mean fewer students can enroll? The answer is simple: Higher education treats students as a cost because higher education’s function for many years has been to employ adults.