Push for future research could come at expense of today’s students 

President Neal Smatresk giving the State of the University address in 2009. FILE PHOTO

With UNLV pushing hard to become a Tier-1 research university alongside the likes of Yale and Harvard, some students are afraid that the hit to their wallets might not be worth the investment.

Before President Smatresk’s announcement in November that he would take the vacant presidency at the University of North Texas, he had championed his vision of UNLV becoming a premier research institution within the next five to 15 years.

In order to produce the funds to support the needed space for research laboratories and new staff to teach such courses, Smatresk said in his last State of the University address, everyone would have to contribute.

“We’ll need modest tuition increases,” Smatresk said. “It’s necessary, but it has to be a slow, steady and multi-step plan. We want our students to be able to prepare for them.”

For Nevada students, tuition raises have become more commonplace with each passing year.

According to recent proposals by state education leaders, the “modest tuition increases” will come in the form of an additional 17 percent hike on state undergraduates spread out over four years. The increase, if approved by the Board of Regents in June, will begin during the fall 2017 semester.

“You can’t expect people to pay for all of it,” said Bryan Spangelo, former UNLV faculty senate chair and current chemistry professor. “It has to be gradual. People have to budget for this [tuition increase].”

Of course with the new additional research fees looming over students’ heads, it is no wonder many UNLV students are debating whether or not the advantages of becoming a top research university would be worth the cost.

“I think UNLV should strive to become a Tier-1 university, but putting the burden on students is not the way to go,” said UNLV freshman Davrin Davis, who is majoring in kinesiology. “They should seek different ways to increase funding.”

However, the push to better Nevada’s educational reputation could bump up against the ongoing disconnect between legislators and state higher education officials, who battle it out over funding every two years when the legislature is in session.

In comparison to other Tier-1 universities like UCLA — whose research budget has been $1 billion dollars over the last few years — UNLV only received about $26.5 million, according to the 2013 UNLV Annual Funding Report.

As a result, many state education leaders turn to tuition hikes as a source of funding.

“The cost of college is already very high for most students, and part of the allure of coming to UNLV is the low cost,” said Davis, “adding that if tuition were to increase, the university should provide more scholarship opportunities for high-achieving students.

While affordability is a main motivator for many students at UNLV, swelling tuition could drive many possible students to attend other higher education institutions.

Aside from possible tuition hikes proposed to support the push for more research, UNLV professors will also be expected to improve their curriculum in order to meet the expectations of Tier-1 education.

“We [UNLV] already have graduate programs in place and a PhD in chemistry. What will change is that we will probably augment it to include more PhD programs such as biochemistry,” Spangelo said.

Administrators say UNLV already has the basic infrastructure needed to support a Tier-1 initiative. The additional costs arise due to the fact that additional space and buildings will be necessary along with much more staff to accommodate the increased research.

Yet, proponents of the long-term vision say that UNLV reaching the Tier-1 status could mean more resources for students and staff, as well as possible increased enrollment as a result of the research commodities. They also argue that the value of all students’ degrees would increase.

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