NSHE needs to focus on graduating its students

Patrick Gibbons

A memo from Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Jim Rogers recently defended paying 106 of the roughly 1,300 NSHE employees more than $100,000 a year. It was another instance of Nevada policy leaders focusing on inputs—state employees and salaries—rather than results.

The University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) and the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) are considered public research universities. According to the Delta Project's latest report, "Trends in College Spending," the average public research university devotes just 45 percent of its resources to student instruction. The report also found that the majority of tuition increases have not gone toward educating students but instead toward funding other university functions. In short, students across the U.S. are being harnessed to subsidize non-instructional projects at their respective institutions.


Median Spending per FTE in 2006, related sector


Sector Education Research Public Service Scholarship Auxiliary Total % to Education
Public research university $13,819 $7,164 $2,420 $1,021 $6,877 $31,301 44.15%
Public master’s institution $10,835 $684 $903 $815 $2,029 $15,266 70.97%
Public community college $9,184 $109 $549 $894 $961 $11,697 78.52%


Per-student operating budgets at UNLV and UNR are near or above the national average.  We have little reason to believe that either school devotes considerably more than that toward educational purposes.

According to the report “Trends in College Spending,” NSHE’s public research universities spend approximately $14,641 per student on education—ranking 18th highest in the nation but not significantly above the national average. This suggests two things. First, the Nevada System of Higher Education is not underfunded and second, NSHE still devotes a large portion of its resources to ends other than the instruction of students.

Is this a reason why Nevada college students graduate at rates pitifully below the national average? After six years of school, only 41 percent of UNLV students and about 48 percent at UNR graduate. The situation is even worse for Nevada’s minority population. Approximately two-thirds of Hispanics and African Americans in Nevada do not graduate within six years.

Students who cannot graduate within six years are statistically unlikely to ever graduate from college. All that many of these students can expect are debt and disappointment.

If Nevada’s flagship universities cannot even graduate 50 percent of their students in six years, why should the schools be routing resources away from education and to six-figure salaries for lawyers, specialists and counselors—and even research-oriented professors?


The answer Rogers should be giving is not whether these $100,000-a-year employees are qualified for the jobs they hold, but whether or not they add genuine value to a student’s education—especially in the down-to-earth categories of improved graduation rates and help for students to find gainful employment.


These are questions, we fear, that Rogers will be unable to answer seriously. The reason is simple: Higher education in Nevada has become a jobs program for academics—the poor are being sacrificed to subsidize the holders of Ph.D.s.


The Nevada System of Higher Education needs to take a serious look at what functions drain resources away from the education of students. UNR and UNLV also need to ensure that 100 percent of tuition and fees go to educating students, rather than subsidizing research projects, lavish buildings, rock-climbing walls and Olympic-size swimming pools.


Until UNR and UNLV can improve graduation rates, these are luxuries Nevada can ill afford.