University of Nevada, Reno President Milt Glick told an audience of several hundred on Aug. 31 during a Northern Nevada Chamber of Commerce luncheon that he is proud of the work of the institution’s students, faculty and staff — particularly given the more than $40 million the University has shaved from its budget.
Despite budget reductions, the flow of good news for the campus in recent weeks has been extensive and promising: an elevation to Tier I in the U.S. News & World Report’s latest “best colleges” rankings; the largest freshman class in the University’s history as well as the institution’s greatest enrollment; the opening of two major, transformational buildings on campus in the Davidson Mathematics and Science Center and the Center for Molecular Medicine.
In the face of such good news, however, Glick, like many from the education and business communities who attended the event at the Atlantis Casino Resort Spa in Reno, couldn’t help but wonder what the upcoming 2011 Nevada Legislature will do in the face of an estimated $2.9 billion shortfall.
“I don’t know where we go for the next dollar,” said Glick, who praised the University for its ability to continue to be a quality institution in the face of unrelenting budget reductions over the past three years. “We’ve done it, and we will continue to do it … but there comes a point where you can’t dig any deeper. It’s a daunting task for the legislature.”
Still, Glick said there is reason to remain hopeful. In the coming weeks and months, he said, the leaders of the state’s economic community must come together with the leaders of higher education and K-12 in order to assure a more prosperous future for Nevada.
“It’s about what we want our children and grandchildren to inherit,” Glick said. “Do we want them to have the same prosperity that others who came before them had?”
Glick noted that a “seamless interface” had been created between Washoe County School Superintendent Heath Morrison, Truckee Meadows Community College (TMCC) President Maria Sheehan and himself. The three education leaders meet regularly, Glick said.
Both Sheehan and Morrison, who spoke after Glick during Tuesday’s program, agreed that the communication and sense of shared mission between the three major entities in northern Nevada’s education equation have never been greater.
“Today we have to share like never before,” said Sheehan, noting that the University and TMCC have plans to share curriculum as well as staff in “working together” to help raise the state’s abysmal ranking – dead last among the 50 states – in enticing 19-year-olds to attend college.
Morrison noted that the more than 220,000 students who fail to graduate high school in Nevada hurt the Silver State in far-reaching ways. He said it is estimated that there is lost revenue and wages of up to $5.2 billion associated with this group of Nevadans who never graduate from high school.
“There is an absolute link between education and economic development,” Morrison said. “There just is.”
Morrison, entering his second full year as school superintendent, said the road to “giving (students) a better tomorrow as well as today” can be accomplished by working closely with his counterparts at TMCC and the University. He said plans are in the works to take curriculum at TMCC and the University and offer it in Washoe County School District high schools to help the district’s students more easily make the leap from high school to college.
Glick, like Morrison and Sheehan, stressed that education is a driver for economic diversification.
“If we want to have that high quality of life in this state, we need to attract high-value businesses,” Glick said. “We need that economic diversification, and we’re committed to do that with you.”
Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, along with Assemblyman David Bobzien and State Sen. Maurice Washington also took the podium at the event.
Smith, long an expert on K-12 and higher education funding, said the prospect of reducing the state’s budget to meet the $2.9 billion shortfall is indeed formidable.
“If you think about our budget in the state of Nevada,” she said, “we have a two-year budget. But we only have enough money to fund one (year). That’s what we’re facing in this state.”
She said it is imperative that all legislators keep the long-term benefit of all Nevadans in mind during the upcoming session. She called 2011 a “crossroads” in the history of the state.
“As my colleagues have said, if we don’t have our kids prepared (through education), then we all lose,” she said.
During the question-and-answer period that followed, Glick was asked to address the future of the Millennium Scholarship program and its benefit to the state.
He said the scholarship, founded in 1999 by the late Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn as a way to get more young Nevadans to attend college, “changed the culture of this state. It made college available for so many where it hadn’t been available before.”
He said the value of the scholarship could also be defined in the way it had created more opportunity. Coupled with the University’s other efforts to help need-based students such as the Pack Advantage program, he said the University has made promising strides in retention and accountability – in May, the University awarded 66 percent more degrees than a decade earlier.
The University, he said, has rapidly reached a point where all individuals, no matter how humble their socio-economic situation entering college, can persist and one day graduate.
“I don’t want any students to say I didn’t get a bachelor’s degree because I couldn’t (afford it),” he said.
He said the future of the Millennium Scholarship in the upcoming legislature will hinge on two factors.
“How do we fund it?” Glick said. “And what are the criteria by which we award it? That is a political snake pit, because there are constituents for any criteria you attach to it.
“(The Millennium Scholarship and its future) isn’t about the University,” Glick added. “This is about what we want our children to achieve in this state.”