Higher education woes

Nevada didn’t do very well in a new report compiled by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Budget woes and the state’s high dropout rate put the state near the bottom in the group’s 2008-09 almanac, which also noted Nevada ranks 47th among states when it comes to the proportion of adult residents who have college degrees.

The state’s poor ranking brought a rebuke from David Longanecker, president of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, who spouted off this week to the Reno Gazette-Journal about the need for higher taxes and other matters.

“The dilemma Nevada faces is twofold: You have a lousy revenue structure and, at the present time, there isn’t a strong will to raise revenue or change the revenue structure,” he said.

Of course, Nevada’s revenue structure has for three decades — until now — generated double-digit increases in state spending virtually every biennium. What state would Mr. Longanecker recommend we emulate? California?

It’s doubtful Mr. Longanecker could even describe the state’s revenue structure, anyhow, given his follow-up comments.

First, he told the Gazette-Journal that Gov. Kenny Guinn was “wonderful” but “almost lost his job by raising the sales tax a penny.” Who knows what he was talking about, given that Gov. Guinn was elected twice in landslides and his 2003 tax package didn’t include a sales tax increase.

Second, while pining for higher taxes in Nevada, he dismisses raising the gaming tax, arguing “California will eat your lunch, so there’s not much more you can milk out of that cow.” Whatever that means.

But all this ignores the reality that Nevada’s poor ranking is nothing new and has little to do with the current budget climate. The state has a more transient population than most, thus the dropout issue, and there are plenty of good jobs in its dominant industry that don’t require four years of secondary education and thus attract workers without college degrees.

In addition, Nevada has only two major universities, both of which for years featured lax admission standards and average academic programs. UNLV, in particular, has been an established four-year institution for barely four decades.

Over time, this will likely change for the better. But it won’t be because Nevada revamped its “revenue structure” to become the Taxachusetts of the West.

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