They gathered slowly, quietly, on the plaza in front of the Joe Crowley Student Union on Saturday morning. The sky was gray, the air chilled, the feeling in some ways a bit tentative.
Then the group of University of Nevada, Reno students grew, reaching a couple of hundred. By the time two buses left campus for the Washoe County Commission chambers to testify before a group of Nevada state legislators at a “town hall meeting” on proposed budget cuts to higher education, the mood was anything but tentative.
The students had heard about, or seen on television, or read about, a proposed budget reduction of at least 17 percent to the University. An email from President Milt Glick to the campus last week estimated that the budget reduction could, when all was said and done, mean as much as a $60 million cut to the University’s budget.
It was all the students who met on Saturday could stand. Their hope was to share their stories, and to explain why cutting higher education would have long-term implications for all Nevadans.
“It’s about our education,” said Jaclyn Davis, a first-year graduate student from Reno who is studying foreign literatures. “If they do more cuts at the University, not only could they possibly cut my field of study, which would not be available for future students, they would be cutting other fields of study as well. It’s very important that we have as much available at the University as we can, not only to keep the students that are here now, but for future students.
“It’s a shame to send future students who are from Reno to other states. We have educated people here. We have smart people here. And we need to keep them here.”
ASUN President Charlie Jose, one of the organizers of Saturday’s event, said that sometimes college students are “an overlooked demographic” when budget decisions are made. He was hopeful that the show of participation could help show legislators that each budget reduction had a direct student impact, that the numbers and percentages of the proposed budget had a very clear student cost attached.
“We (students) don’t voice our opinions that often, but this our chance to do that with this town hall meeting,” said Jose, a mathematics major from Henderson, Nev., who hopes to enroll in the University of Nevada School of Medicine in order to become a physician. “I know in my own experience, I chose to stay in-state because of the Millennium Scholarship. I’ve learned during my time at the University that this is where I want to be, and this is where I want to work. But with the cuts, that might not be possible anymore. The cuts directly affect our students here. It will really hurt our retention rates. Hopefully, when we testify today, our stories will give them some better insight into what the cuts will mean to the students on our campus.”
Brooke Cohen, a sophomore from Reno majoring in international business, said she was “one of the lucky ones” whose family had invested in a pre-paid tuition plan for her college studies. However, Cohen quickly added, such a program “doesn’t cover everything and (the cuts) would still affect me.”
“Education is important,” she said. “I don’t think they’re looking at the long-term. Short-term, yeah, it’s going to cut costs. But how are we going to boost our economy if the people in our state aren’t educated? With a 30 percent budget cut, a lot of people in Reno will go somewhere else. And we want these people staying here, not going away.”
Naden Black, a freshman from Reno majoring in French and journalism, agreed.
“In today’s economy, having a high school degree just isn’t enough,” she said. “To get a good job, I feel like I need more than your standard bachelor’s degree to make it in today’s society. That’s why I feel it’s really important to be here this morning.”
For Davis, pursuing a graduate degree in her hometown was important for a number of reasons. She said that relatively low tuition at the University was one reason, though not the only reason, why she had remained in Reno rather than pursuing her studies at an out-of-state institution.
“I also want to stay here for my family,” she said. “I only have a grandmother left here. I want to stay here because she’s older and it’s important I stay close. Eventually I will have to go and make my own life somewhere else, but right now it’s important I stay as close to family for as long as possible.”
William C., who has studied information systems at the University, said budget cuts to the University would do no good in helping the state jump-start its sagging economy.
“We will have no incentive for education and businesses won’t want to come to our state,” he said of the proposed cuts. “Families won’t want to move to here because there will be no growth potential and no educational opportunities for their children. It would negatively impact our state.”
He added that raising tuition wasn’t the answer, either.
“We can just take an example from California,” he said. “The tuition there is rising because the state is having problems with money. And the quality of the schools there is decreasing. It’s almost worthwhile not to go to California anymore. The only reason why people are here right now is because taxes are low, tuition is low, but so are wages when you look at what’s happening across the country. So if you raise tuition, it may be a small amount compared to any other university in the U.S., but considering the level of income of the citizens of Nevada, and the amount of unemployment we have in Nevada, raising tuition is a really substantial impact.”
Davis said she felt that the effort on Saturday was worth it.
“It just seems that education is always important, and it always has been important, and it always will be important,” she said. “It’s just very important to keep your voice out there.”