Crisis in Public Higher Education: Nevada

By Gregory S. Brown

As a result of decades of short-sighted budgeting and overreliance on one key industry, Nevada is facing the largest shortfall in revenue as a proportion of state expenditures of any state in the country. Nevada has no corporate or personal income tax, so although the state has some of the most profitable businesses and wealthiest individuals in the country, they contribute next to nothing to the public well-being. The state with the lowest rate of college attendance in the country is responding to this ongoing crisis by adding even steeper cuts to higher education to those already made in the past three years.

State allocations for higher education have been reduced by nearly 30 percent since 2007; the budget proposal from Governor Brian Sandoval would cut another 23 percent—which translates to $162 million in the coming biennium. In a state in which the gold-mining industry is enjoying record profits but paying an effective tax rate of less than 1 percent and in which the gaming industry pays the lowest gaming taxes of any state with legal gaming in the United States, faculty and staff are almost certain to have to absorb another round of 5 percent pay cuts, a 125 percent increase in health-care coverage costs and reduction of coverage to major medical expenses only, and, most alarming, program cuts that could see hundreds of faculty and staff members, including dozens of tenured professors, laid off. The system’s largest institution, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, is preparing for financial exigency, and its second largest, the University of Nevada, Reno, is preparing for another round of program review. Several community college campuses are likely to be closed.

The worst financial crisis of any system of public education in the United States has received very little national attention. But the Nevada Faculty Alliance, an AAUP state conference, has put itself on a war footing.