The Nevada System of Higher Education took a massive hit to its budget during the Nevada Legislatures special session.
As legislators grappled with filling a $1.2 billion budget hole amid the economic fallout of COVID-19, Assembly Bill 3 reduced the NSHE budget by $136 million.
It comes at a time when institutions are deciding how to handle the upcoming fall semester amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lisa Levine serves on the Board of Regents. She’s one of the board’s most recent appointees.
“When you’re faced with a $1.2 billion budget shortfall, it is no fault of your own, especially when it's due to a pandemic that we haven’t seen in over a century. Our state leaders are stuck between a wall and a hard place. These are challenging times,” Levine said.
Levine said NSHE as already used CARES Acts funds, added a per-credit charge and dipped into a market fluctuation account to cover some budget shortfalls.
However, it is not just a cut in state funding that the agency is dealing with.
There has also been a drop off in philanthropic donations and other revenue streams like athletics and dormitories for example.
“We have a meeting on August 7 where we’re going to look at the budget and we’re going to have to make some additional cost-saving measures to make up that difference,” she said.
She said without a doubt UNLV will see the biggest cuts.
“UNLV will have to make the most up from the budget cuts that we’re facing,” she said.
Levine said the UNLV medical school as already lost money from the state and the plans for a new engineering building at the university have been scrapped, even though it is one of the fasted growing departments.
The cuts come just a few years after the school achieved its long-term goal of Tier One research status. Levine said that status brings in research dollars and makes it easier to recruit faculty.
“All of that we have to protect while also reducing the budget,” she said.
UNLV will see a budget cuts of $36 million and UNR will see $25 million. Levine said UNR has had a long time advantage over UNLV, but that is something she would like to change.
She said lawmakers in Carson City understand UNLV's importance and she noted that many of them are alumni themselves.
“It’s not that we need to do a better job of educating them, as some of my colleagues said last week, it’s just that we need to prove that if we get the resources from the Legislature under NSHE that we’re going to do the right thing with the money,” Levine said.
She said lawmakers have to be reassured that NSHE will put those dollars into institutions and programs to make a difference.
Levine said that distrust is one of the biggest hurdles the Board of Regents and NSHE needs to overcome.
“There is a systemic mistrust of this government agency. It’s an issue that goes back to previous leadership under NSHE with chancellors’ office and the regents,” she said, “I think it is really important that we fix that because it’s hindering our ability to advocate for our institutions and students.”
With budget cuts comes talk of possible layoffs, Levine said there won't be layoffs at the universities - if she can help it.
There will, however, be cuts in salaries.
Levine is hoping to offset those cuts with a sliding scale.
“One of those I recommended is a graduated scale for the pay reduction,” she said.
For example, a 4.6 percent cut in salary will be much more harmful to someone making $45,000 a year compared with someone making $150,000 a year.
The same is true for cuts to smaller community colleges. A $36 million bite out of UNLV's budget will hurt, but a $500,000 bite out a community college's budget will be devastating.
Levine said she does not support one of her colleague's suggestions to shut down some of the community colleges in the state to save money.
“That is not something I can support either, because these play critical roles not just the staple of the community but literally the glue holding the community together,” she said, “We have to be innovative with how we’re making these reductions.”
Levine noted that community colleges will be on the front lines for retraining and upscaling Nevada's workforce as it leads the recovery from the economic downturn.
There won't just be cuts to the institutions under NSHE's umbrella but the agency itself is cutting back, which is something Levine is pleased about. The chancellor announced cuts to 'host' accounts that regents have.
Levine would also like the board to look at cuts in car and housing allowances that some people in the agency have as a way to "share the sacrifice."
She wants to see the dollars that the agency does have invested into its main missions of academic success, student achievement and economic prosperity for the entire state.
“I think it’s our duty – all of us – to work together on behalf of the entire state when it comes to higher education. Everyone deserves access to opportunity,” she said, “The American dream can’t happen without access to opportunity and that’s education.”
Lisa Levine, board of regents, Nevada System of Higher Education
You won’t find a paywall here. Come as often as you like — we’re not counting. You’ve found a like-minded tribe that cherishes what a free press stands for. If you can spend another couple of minutes making a pledge of as little as $5, you’ll feel like a superhero defending democracy for less than the cost of a month of Netflix.