Official census finds net loss of graduate, undergrad students
The UNLV official preliminary census indicated student enrollment has decreased between Fall 2010 and Fall 2011.
The census showed that in the past year, enrollment in state-funded academic programs dropped by 4 percent. Self-supported programs include the Marriage and Family Therapy Master’s degree program, which is self-supported but charges students the full cost of the program.
While the total headcount includes a slight duplication, given that some students are enrolled in both graduate and professional programs, the headcount for these degree programs as well as for undergraduate enrollment has decreased.
The undergraduate headcount has dropped by 2.8 percent; the headcounts for graduates by 9.9 percent and by 1.2 percent for professionals.
Additionally, student full-time enrollment has fallen by 5.2 percent and 1.4 percent for part-time enrollment. The resident headcount also dropped by 2.7 percent compared to a 10 percent decrease for non-resident enrollment. The international headcount fell by .02 percent.
The enrollment statistics caused mixed reactions from both students and the executive administrative faculty.
Executive Vice President and Provost Michael Bowers said these decreases could be the result of a number of factors, apart from the tuition increase in order to compensate for state budget cuts to public higher education made by Gov. Brian Sandoval.
“I think the president has said many times, we are probably going to be a smaller institution. I think we see the beginnings for that,” Bowers said. “It’s not just because tuition and registration has gone up. People don’t have the money and all the programs that we cut because of losing state budget.”
Since 2007, UNLV tuition has increased. In Fall 2011, undergraduate students saw tuition rise 12.7 percent, while graduate and professional students’ tuition increased 5 percent and will be subjected to that same tuition raise the following academic year.
While the international student headcount was the lowest percentage decrease on the census, strong opinions were expressed from both students and the executive administration regarding the decrease.
Pinduan Tan, a Chinese international student majoring in international business and minoring in Japanese, said that she is currently taking 15 credits, for which her tuition exceeds $10,000.
She said that during her first semester at UNLV in 2009, she paid about $8,000 in tuition for the same amount of credits, adding that the amount of tuition she pays at UNLV could cover two to three years of college education in her home country.
She also stated that compared to her American peers who only pay $2,000 to $3,000 in fees, her tuition is triple theirs.
Tan said she has no scholarships or financial aid to help pay off her tuition and that it is “not fair” that most international students are not applicable for scholarships and financial aid because they are not U.S. citizens.
“Even though the tuition keeps increasing every semester, compared to other schools in other states, [UNLV's tuition rates are] still cheaper,” Tan said. “The cheaper tuition is one of the advantages of coming to UNLV, but if tuition keeps going up, then I think we will lose that advantage.”
Korean undergraduate student Byoungha Lee says although tuition increases have placed a heavy burden on international students, they cannot quit school. She said studying abroad has left these students with few choices.
Tan also said that international students decide what schools to attend when seeking education abroad by comparing university standings. She stated while UNLV is well-known for its hotel college, the university’s other programs are “not as good as other institutions.”
President Neal Smatresk, however, said he disagreed with Tan’s statement and listed several programs, including fine arts, architecture and nursing as UNLV’s other strong points besides the Harrah Hotel College.
“We have a lot good programs,” he said. “So when you hear a general remark like that, it doesn’t mean much, or it’s uninformed.”
Smatresk addressed the rising tuition and the percentage decreases for the graduate and non-residential headcount. He said that executive administration does not want to increase non-residential tuition or graduate tuition any further.
He said that there is a “slack for raises” only for residential students because their fees are low compared to other universities, including those on the east coast and California.
He also said that he and his staff are considering a more merit-based scholarship award system in which students — residential, non-residential and international — would receive scholarships based on their GPA.
He said that although the amount of award money would decrease as GPAs lower, this system would show the symbiotic investment relationship between UNLV and students, and that merit-based scholarships would most likely diversify UNLV.
“That’s one of the ways you grow … an international and cosmopolitan work force,” he said. “So to me, students from many different countries create a great environment, a great learning environment, a great interaction and community.”
Undergraduate Student Body President Sarah Saenz gave an argument similar to Bowers’, saying in an email that besides the tuition increase, program cuts were probably the other cause for the 2.8 percent decrease in the undergraduate student headcount.
She added that student enrollment would continue to decrease during the next few years not because of tuition raises, but due to UNLV becoming a more “selective” university.
In the email, Saenz said she advocated for tuition increases only if they would be used to support students, graduate assistants and staff ,and that the increases would be “worth it” if they went directly to UNLV.
“If we could keep that money on campus, and we didn’t give it to the system to give to everyone else, that would actually be a profit center for the university, which could help to subsidize and maintain cost control for residential students,” he said. “In other words, I feel like [UNLV] should be incentivized for doing that, rather than having our money taken away.”
Smatresk said the state legislature needed to re-examine the funding formula because community colleges are receiving almost the same amount of funds as UNLV.
He said the logic behind that “doesn’t make any sense” because UNLV is a research university, which has a bachelor degree production and graduate programs.
Graduate and Professional Student Association President Michael Gordon said the 9.9 percent decrease in the graduate headcount was most likely due to a number of factors besides tuition, including people moving out of state, not being able to afford going to school or deciding that pursuing a graduate degree would not be cost beneficial.
Smatresk said the graduate headcount decrease was also the result of the Clark County School District “removing the incentive to pursue master’s degrees” by possibly not subsidising programs anymore, and that cuts to degree programs could have affected the graduate headcount as well.
Gordon said he felt that money generated at UNLV should stay on campus and that the current funding formula limits UNLV to an enrollment institution. Like Saenz, he predicted enrollment would decrease once again for the next academic year, but this time due to further increases in tuition.
During his State of the University address on Sept. 22, Smatresk said tuition may increase again, which would help the university hire new faculty.
However, Smatresk stated that enrollment may decrease again and said that increasing graduate tuition “doesn’t make a lot of sense … anymore.”
“If enrollment is down this year with our current tuition rates, I’m going to expect the enrollment to go down again because tuition will increase,” Gordon said. “Where do we draw the line where we say we’re pricing ourselves out of the market? Where’s the number where we are attracting quality students and producing effective students not only for our state but society as a whole?”
He stated continual tuition increases could become detrimental to students’ professional careers because it may take them years to pay back their student loans.
Tan added there is a “general sense of worry” among international students because Nevada has been “badly affected by the economy.”
“If [Nevada has] less revenue, they might not have enough funding for education,” she said. “If we don’t have enough funding, there will be another budget cut in the school [system] and the tuition will increase and it will affect everybody again.”
However, Smatresk echoed the hopeful sentiments he expressed at his State of the University and insisted that UNLV is on solid ground.
“There’ll be a little tussle in the next session, but we’ll get over it,” he said. “It won’t be anything like this past session.”
Despite the headcount outcomes portrayed on the census, Gordon and Saenz stated they felt that UNLV is still an institution in which students should invest.
Gordon said that UNLV’s law and dental schools are both prestigious programs, and also pointed out that although the university lacks a medical school, University of Nevada, Reno’s medical school students still have to complete their clinical work in Clark County. He said that having all three schools in the county is enough incentive for graduate and professional students to pursue their degrees at UNLV.
Saenz said in her email that now is the perfect time for undergraduate students to either enroll or continue their education at UNLV because the university is beginning to make changes for the better.
“I believe that students now, more than ever, should be enrolling in this university,” she said in the email. “Not only is this institution making itself stronger and more stable. It is starting a new chapter in its UNLV life and students should want to be a part of that.”
Smatresk said that if students wanted, they could choose courses at UNLV that would result in a rigorous education.
Smatresk and Bowers maintained that UNLV is a “very good bargain for a very good high-quality education.”
“I’m fairly hopeful that we won’t be in as bad a position next session. There’s still a structural deficit. We’ll still have to worry about it,” Smatresk said. “But I think we can see that maybe after next [legislative] session, there will be the beginnings of new investments back in the university system and that will be a blessing for all of us.”
Contact Julie Ann Formoso at [email protected]