Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020 | 2 a.m.
As two individuals who have been intimately involved at every level of the Nevada educational system, we know just how important education is to every facet of our community. We’re proud of the many accomplishments of Nevada’s higher education system, but we are also concerned with the mismanagement and dysfunction demonstrated by the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) and the Board of Regents, which is the governing body of Nevada’s universities, colleges and community colleges.
We know we can do better, and that is why we are supporting Question 1 on the November ballot. Also known as the “Nevada Higher Education Reform, Accountability and Oversight Amendment,” the measure will bring accountability, transparency and oversight to the Board of Regents, which will help ensure that taxpayer dollars meant for higher education benefit students and educators as intended.
For years, NSHE and the Board of Regents have participated in a pattern of reckless behavior, strife with mismanagement, dysfunction and mishandling of taxpayer money. The board oversees a multimillion-dollar budget for system administration, which is greater than the general fund budgets of some of our colleges and larger than that of the equivalent entity in many other states with similar populations. These inflated administrative costs mean that fewer state resources get to campuses, faculty and students.
As every state agency is being asked to implement hiring freezes and make painful cuts as a result of one of the worst recessions in our state’s history, the Board of Regents has continued to spend. For example, the board saw fit to pay sizable six-figure salaries to two chancellors for a number of months, all during a time when student fees have continued to rise. In fact, the Board of Regents has voted to increase tuition at a rate greater than was recommended by the Tuition and Fees Committee comprised of students, faculty and institution leadership. As a result, tuition has more than doubled since 2008.
The board’s internal chaos has also led to tremendous waste, which has diverted money that should be meant for students into the hands of attorneys. In the past three years alone, the board has had to hire outside legal counsel twice to address its own inner discord.
Sadly, the board’s out-of-control spending has not translated into benefits for students or educators. While Nevada is 16th in per-student funding, spending $1 billion biennially, we are ranked just 46th in college attainment. Furthermore, our college graduation rate at all state higher education institutions is below the national average.
How do we fix this broken system? By holding NSHE and the Board of Regents accountable and ensuring their actions are more transparent. Nevada law will still require that the regents are elected and oversee day-to-day operations of higher education, but Question 1 will provide a mechanism for independent oversight which will in turn hold them accountable just like every other taxpayer-funded state entity.
It’s time we put education first by modernizing our higher education governance system. The passage of Ballot Question 1 will accomplish this and provide a system of checks and balances that will hold NSHE and the Board of Regents accountable for their actions. Join us in voting for our future with a “yes” on Question 1.
Joyce Woodhouse is a former Nevada state senator, elementary school teacher and principal. Chet Burton is the former chief financial officer for NSHE and is past president of Western Nevada College.