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Good, Bad Or Ugly: Nevada's Higher Education System And The Legislature

Nevada's higher education system, sought out more these days as high school grads realize good casino jobs are not readily available, got a mixed bag from state lawmakers this year.

Lawmakers granted a total of $162 million in capital improvement projects and $35.1 million in enhancement requests.

But the Ways and Means Committee, headed by State Sen. Maggie Carlton, a Las Vegas Democrat, cut in half a request for $40.7 million to pay for expected growth, for the systems two universities, UNR and UNLV. 

Even with all that, NSHE Chancellor Thom Reilly told KNPR's State of Nevada the system faired well in this legislative session.

"In a nutshell, over the biennium, we received a 10.88 percent - almost 11 percent - increase in our budget," he said, "That is not seen in many agencies." 

The $162 million in capital improvements will fund a new education building at Nevada State College, a health and sciences building at the College of Southern Nevada and an engineering building at UNLV.

There is also money to fully ramp up the UNLV medical school and expand education programs in Nevada's prison system.

While Reilly was pleased with all of those funded items, he was not pleased with cuts for research funding at UNLV and UNR.

Reilly said lawmakers wanted to emphasize programs that are a direct pipeline to the workforce, like those at the state's community colleges.

The chancellor believes restoring those research dollars in future legislative sessions will depend on stressing the importance of research to state lawmakers.

"We have to do a better job explaining why research is important," he said, "We do research to solve problems and what problems in our community, locally, regionally, statewide, nationally, globally, we are solving."

Universities, he added, need to give concrete examples of what problems their research departments have solved. 

While Reilly understands the idea of funneling money into workforce development, he believes research and workforce training go hand in hand.

"The reason we need those research dollars, it promotes economic growth it fuels into the workforce development and we, as public institutions, are involved in our communities and solving problems."

UNLV recently received an important designation as a top-tier research institution, in large part because of its growth in research funding. 

Thom Reilly, chancellor, Nevada System of Higher Education

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