College students in Nevada face more fee increases

If a proposal to raise student fees at Nevada’s colleges and universities is approved next month, students will be paying twice as much next year as they were just six years ago.

The hike, which would affect undergraduate students only, would be made to counter state budget cuts that higher education leaders say have weakened the colleges and universities over the past several years.

"We’ve lost a lot of faculty. We’ve lost programs. We’ve lost courses," said Jason Geddes, chairman of the higher education system’s governing Board of Regents. "If we’re going to be part of the state’s recovery, the economic development necessary, we’re going to have to offer more courses, not less."

The board will be offered three proposals. Members could reject all of them or pass one. They will choose between fee increases of 5 percent, 8 percent and 13 percent.

If the 13 percent hike is approved — and Geddes said that is the one he favors — annual fees for full-time undergraduate Nevada residents will top $6,000 next year.

That number does not include books, room and board, or special course fees.

Graduate student fees will not increase. A nearly systemwide enrollment drop this year was concentrated among graduate students, a fact some officials blamed on the cost being too high. Graduate students pay about 50 percent more, per credit, than undergraduates do.

Sarah Saenz, the undergraduate student body president at UNLV, said students complain often of the rising costs to attend the university.

But, she said, they complain just as much about the budget cuts of recent years. She said the cuts have made it harder for students to get appointments with advisers, for example.

Saenz said she thought a 13 percent hike is too much, but one of 5 percent to 10 percent would be understandable, as long as the money stays on campus.

Higher education leaders have complained for years that most of the fees charged at the universities and colleges end up enriching the state’s general fund rather than improving the campuses.

Geddes said 15 percent of the money raised through a fee hike would stay on campus and be used for financial aid.

"That would be a good thing, but there are also other things on campus that have to be looked at, that have to be improved," Saenz said.

Tuition and fees have been rising for years in Nevada and across the country as state governments deal with decreases in revenue caused by the recession.

Leaders in California raised tuition in the state university system by 9 percent on Wednesday over the raucous protests of students.

A 13 percent increase that Nevada’s Board of Regents approved in June went into effect this year. That followed increases of more than 10 percent every year going back five years.

Chancellor Dan Klaich this past spring presented state lawmakers with a plan to fund the higher education system without cutting the budget as much as had been proposed. Among the plan’s points were 13 percent fee increases in each of the next two years.

Legislators, who have no authority in setting tuition and fees, endorsed the first increase, but not the second.

Geddes said if the board approves another fee hike, the chancellor will have to get approval from the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee to spend the money raised.

It has been system policy to keep tuition and fees here low, tying it to a regional or national average. But in September, the board voted to suspend the policy while a new one is being studied.

Klaich noted then that the policy did not take into account the students’ or the state’s needs. A new policy is being drafted and is expected to embrace higher fees and more financial aid .

Geddes said higher costs for students are likely to be a permanent reality.

"We need to raise fees to ensure student success, but also provide more financial aid to allow students who can’t afford it to attend college," he said.

Contact reporter Richard Lake at rlake@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0307.

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