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UNLV tuition increase

UNLV President Neal Smatresk used his annual State of the University address Thursday to call for another round of “reasonable” tuition increases.

It was a perfectly reasonable recommendation.

Tuition at UNLV has increased by 73 percent in four years, including a 13 percent hike this year. Those increases have been smaller than tuition and fee hikes at public universities around the West. UNLV remains a comparative bargain for residents, as full-time undergraduates must pay about $3,000 for a semester’s worth of courses and fees.

Mr. Smatresk knows he can’t count on taxpayers for additional financial support. Earlier this year, the Legislature resisted calls for massive tax increases, choosing to extend temporary levies for two more years. When lawmakers return to Carson City in 2013, budget negotiations probably will center on whether to let those rates expire or continue for another biennium. Either way, state support for higher education isn’t likely to increase anytime soon.

“I believe we’re at rock bottom. I don’t believe you’ll see further erosion, or significant erosion, in our funding,” Mr. Smatresk said Thursday.

Taxpayers have long subsidized the lion’s share of the university’s operations. Before the Great Recession, students paid less than $3,000 per year for tuition, even as UNLV ramped up its research mission. An influx of Millennium Scholarship recipients made coping with enrollment growth the university’s primary focus. Most students washed out in less than two years at little cost to themselves.

Today, it’s not realistic to expect a public dealing with nation-leading unemployment and underemployment to subsidize tuition. Students must cover those costs.

Mr. Smatresk wants an infusion of between $6.5 million and $8.5 million per year to fill positions he says are critical to the university’s improvement. He’ll need the approval of the Board of Regents to boost tuition again. An increase of between 10 and 15 percent — the range of increases imposed in each of the past five academic years — would fit Mr. Smatresk’s definition of “reasonable.”

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