By Gina Bongiovi, Local Attorney, Small Business Owner and Vegas Chamber Chair-Elect
As a proud graduate of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (’01, ’07) and a small business owner, I know how important higher education is to economic growth and the advancement of our state. It provides crucial educational opportunities and workforce training that are essential to diversifying our economy and helping us thrive. Nevada higher education has provided me and countless others with many opportunities, but we can and must do better. Question 1 on the November ballot will allow us to do just that by overhauling the governance of our higher education system to ensure accountability and transparency for the Board of the Regents and the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE).
Question 1, also known as the “Nevada Higher Education Reform, Accountability, and Oversight Amendment,” will modernize the governance of our higher education system and provide oversight of NSHE and the Board of Regents. Currently, the board is the only taxpayer-funded entity in the state that operates without legislative oversight. This measure will change that by creating a system where NSHE and the board will be held accountable to the governor, legislature, and ultimately, the voting public.
Our higher education system is failing us. Here’s how. For decades, Nevada has been one of the fastest growing states in the nation, but with this growth comes challenges. We have struggled to adapt our higher education governance to meet the needs of a state striving to economically diversify. For example, Nevada is the only state where a single elected board governs all universities, colleges, and community colleges. The problem with this structure is that it fails to reflect the differing missions of our many institutions and the communities they serve. NSHE’s inability to be nimble and realign curriculum and priorities to meet the changing needs of our region has led to a loss of confidence in higher education by our business community, philanthropic leaders, and other higher education stakeholders.
Most importantly, this antiquated framework – in place since 1864 – provides no mechanism for oversight or checks and balances. This lack of accountability has led to years of government waste and mismanagement, and has added more layers of bureaucracy and administrative costs. This means fewer resources for our students and fewer partnerships with private industry, which hampers our ability to develop and diversify Nevada’s economy.
Additionally, states with similar populations have five times the number of colleges but about one-third the number of employees at the system level compared to NSHE. The exceedingly top-heavy NSHE and the Board of Regents have a $26 million biennial budget for largely administrative functions, while some of our colleges struggle to operate entire institutions on less than that.
The Board of Regents’ spending has continued even during one of the worst financial crises to face our state. The contract they recently approved for the new NSHE chancellor included a six-figure salary and various allowances for housing, a car, and a “host account” worth thousands more. The state is also burdened with millions in salaries for NSHE executives who only stay for a few years and then leave with extravagant, taxpayer-funded severance packages.
These expenditures have unfortunately not resulted in improved student metrics. Nevada spends $1.2 billion on higher education each year, and ranks 16th of the 50 states in per-student funding, but 46th in college attainment. Sadly, graduation rates at all of Nevada’s colleges fall consistently below the national average, which means we do not have the skilled workers our economy needs, and we are not getting a good return on taxpayer investment in higher education.
As Nevadans, we deserve better.
Given the current economic climate, it is more important than ever to find ways to strengthen our workforce so that we are better prepared to meet the future needs of our economy. While Question 1 will not change the day-to-day operations of higher education and will still require that the Board of Regents be elected and oversee higher education, it will provide much-needed oversight of NSHE and the Board of Regents while holding them accountable and making sure their actions are transparent, all of which ultimately will benefit our students. For these reasons, I am urging my fellow Chamber members and all Nevadans to join with our diverse and bi-partisan coalition to vote “YES” on Question 1.
View the Vegas Chamber’s 2020 Election Guide here.