Community can’t afford more higher education cuts

For the past year, students have been affected by Nevada’s poor economic climate. Higher education system Chancellor Jim Rogers has spearheaded the call to oppose any further budget cuts, and for that we, the students, are grateful — not only to Chancellor Rogers, but to his family as well.

While he has been writing memos and making calls to policy makers, it would appear that the students have been apathetic. However, this simply is not true. We, UNLV’s student leaders, have been doing extensive research. The conclusion we have come to is simply this: UNLV cannot afford cuts of the magnitude proposed.

With each day drawing Nevada nearer to the 2009 legislative session, students are beginning to lose faith in Nevada’s commitment to education. The term “student” implies a separation from Nevada workers who contribute valuable time, energy and money to this state. But the truth is we’re workers as well. In fact, as members of this community (some of us are Nevadans), we care not only about our education but about this state as well.

Unlike students at other state universities, UNLV students make up a diverse, hardworking and motivated student body. A great majority of students balance their class schedules and work full time. We have to because the university has been underfunded by the state for decades.

Students pay tuition, of which two-thirds goes directly back to the state. We complain very little because UNLV has always been able to offer classes at flexible times. With current cuts, UNLV has already lost 500 classes, which has prevented students from getting into the classes they need to graduate. The magnitude of future cuts is on a scale that will drastically hinder students’ ability to graduate on time. This delay will cost students and the taxpayers (of which students are included) even more money and productivity.

At UNLV, graduate students make up 21 percent of the student population, and we are affected in a different way than our undergraduate counterparts. A typical graduate student will work for the university on an assistantship. This assistantship comes with a monthly stipend and partial tuition waiver. While this might seem perfect, graduate assistants make only $10,000 or $12,000 a year — quite below the poverty line.

Graduate students serve UNLV in the following capacities: We take courses, work on research projects with our advisers, some of which bring in additional revenue for Nevada, like the Urban Sustainability Initiative. We also teach 100- to 200-level classes with enrollments of between 32 and 150 students per class, which with future cuts will only increase. Or worse — future cuts could impact our assistantships. Without assistantships, many graduate students wouldn’t be able to continue their education.

In response to double-digit budget cuts, UNLV’s undergraduate and graduate student leaders meet weekly with student leaders from the College of Southern Nevada and Nevada State College. Recently we created budget-cut tombstones in order to make the student population aware of just how dangerous these potential cuts will be.

Future cuts will affect tuition. Generally, students understand that increases in tuition are a result of inflation and/or increases in service, but if tuition is raised even higher in order to make up for the state’s deficit, students won’t be able to afford going to college, nor will students take kindly to paying more for a decrease in service.

Even more than the threat of a high increase in tuition, UNLV will be forced to cut programs. That means that anyone in that major will potentially have to transfer, which means Nevada will risk losing students to other more affordable programs outside of this state.

If the students leave, so does Nevada’s educated work force. Anyone who wants to see Nevada diversify its industry will have to kiss that dream goodbye.

UNLV already benefits Nevada. A recent study conducted by the Center of Business and Economic Research explains that for every dollar invested in UNLV, $4.50 of economic activity is generated. An investment that yields revenue is in the best interests of Nevada.

We, the students, would like to call you to action. Write to your legislators and demand that they not hurt Nevada’s potential for a diversified market, for a prosperous economy and for an educated work force. Ask them to continue the long-term investment that this state originally made in funding higher education, because it is this investment that will yield long-term dividends in both economic and human capital.

Jessica Lucero is UNLV’s graduate and professional student body president. Adam Cronis is student body president of the Consolidated Students of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

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