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Tuition hikes will not go toward Tier-1 status 

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UNLV Executive Vice President and Provost John Valery White says tuition increases will not be used toward achieving Tier-1 status.

Former President Neal Smatresk announced at his annual State of the University address in September the ambitious initiative for UNLV to become a top-ranking research university within two decades.

He was certain that UNLV could increase its number of research projects to compete with peer institutions like Arizona State University and hold the same prestigious Tier-1 title as several Ivy League schools including Harvard.

Initially, Smatresk had said becoming a research powerhouse would take grant money, state funding and “modest tuition increases.”

The latter has been highly contested by undergraduate student government CSUN, whose position is that students should not have to pay more out-of-pocket so that UNLV meets resource gaps.

In November, the Nevada System of Higher Education Tuition and Fees Committee recommended tuition hikes, which could go as high as 17 percent over a four-year period for undergraduates beginning in fall 2015 and 4 percent for graduates starting fall 2017. The proposals are set to be voted on by the NSHE Board of Regents in June.

But White contradicted Smatresk’s statement made in September and said tuition increases are “not connected” to the Tier-1 initiative. Instead, he said they are intended to help UNLV meet its requirements as a “Carnegie Research High” institution, or a Tier-2 research university.

“That [tuition hike] is to support academic and research needs,” White said. “The tuition proposals will help us function as a carnegie high.”

Elias Benjelloun, who recently won the vote as the next CSUN president but was disqualified on April 21, confirmed that White and NSHE Chancellor Dan Klaich told student government senators in October that any tuition hike will not be used toward achieving Tier-1.

“They said the tuition increase, if passed, will go toward maintaining the university with things like hiring more people at financial aid,” Benjelloun said.

But administrators have also said the tuition money will be used to hire faculty. A number of recent hires are now occupied by faculty with a wealth of research experience, which would only help propel UNLV to Tier-1 status.

UNLV must also hire at least 300 more faculty to meet its objective. A majority of the money collected from an 8 percent tuition hike approved in December 2011 was used to hire faculty members, which some CSUN members worry could be the case again with the current proposed tuition increases.

White said he, along with fellow executive administrators, will work to get funding from the state to meet Tier-1 status. He plans to lobby the Legislature to reinvest the $73 million it cut from UNLV during the economic recession back into the university. That, he says, will be the main source of funding for Tier-1.

“We’ve been very careful to emphasize that our Tier-1 efforts are a legislative effort and a promise from the state to reinvest in us,” White said.

But the Legislature is infamous for not allocating adequate funds toward higher education. For that reason, students, a majority of them undergraduates, believe tuition will be used to work toward Tier-1.

While CSUN is the only student government in the state aside from Great Basin College that opposes the tuition hikes, UNLV’s Graduate and Professional Student Association has publicly championed the Tier-1 initiative, as well as the tuition raises.

“It [Tier-1] will not only enhance our education as graduate students and our experiences and skills, but it will also enhance undergraduate opportunities for assistant research opportunities,” said GPSA president Sharon Young.

Since the state Legislature stopped cutting its funds toward UNLV, the graduate college, which currently provides 130 degrees, has been attempting to help the university become recognized nationally for its research.

Graduates are an essential part in meeting Tier-1 because they often partake in research alongside faculty members.

But in the past decade, the number of UNLV graduate students has steadily decreased. Because of the $73-million-cut the university had to eliminate five departments and 13 graduate programs.

“When you close programs in a very visible and public manner that scares a lot of people,” said Kate Korgan, the dean of the graduate college.

The Clark County School District also suspended its incentive programs that encouraged teachers to get a professional degree in exchange for higher salaries. That further contributed to the decline in enrollment.

UNLV has not experienced any further budget cuts since then, but the number of graduate students has not risen. Korgan said that’s because the Las Vegas market is based on career fields that don’t necessarily require a bachelor’s degree. Consequently, few people went back to school to ride out the economic downturn as is normally the case.

“In Las Vegas, when so many people lost their jobs, many of them were in sectors where they didn’t need a bachelor’s degree,” she said. “We didn’t have many people who were economically displaced who went back to graduate school.”

But with the start of the Tier-1 initiative, Korgan and the graduate college are setting out to change that.

At least three new graduate certificates have been approved, and the college is expected to introduce a master’s degree in English Language Learning, commonly known as English as a Second Language. The graduate program in Urban Leadership, which will train students in becoming licensed school principals, is also set to reopen.

Still, attracting graduates to UNLV in order to reach Tier-1 status will take a lot more than introducing a few new programs and certificates each semester. It’s going to take money and students dedicated to research.

Though administrators say tuition won’t be used toward reaching Tier-1, increasing costs regardless may discourage any potential student from coming to UNLV.

“The most obvious challenge for Tier-1 is funding,” Young said. “In order to do that, we’re going to have to work hard to get grant funding to pay for the work that we’re doing.”

She anticipates that the initiative may result in departments in hard sciences may get “special treatment” because that is where the frequent research is conducted, but that ultimately, it would only lead to healthy competition.

Yet another controversial element of Tier-1 is whether pressure to increase research output would result in faculty spending less time in the classroom. At the moment, UNLV’s six-year graduation rate sits at 42.9 percent, a far cry from a Tier-1 worthy institution.

White said improving the graduation rate is a top priority for administrators, but added that becoming a prestigious research institution would only enhance students’ academic experience on top of their research opportunities.

“We..believe, though, that what we would need to produce Tier-1 would produce more instructional faculty for us,” he said. “Our pursuit of Tier-1 will help us address the student needs on the academic side. We don’t see them as different things.”

Young echoed his sentiments.

“All of the benefits of research gets carried over to the classroom,” she said. “I don’t think it’s a concern that the teaching side will suffer.”

Korgan said that were UNLV to become a Tier-1 university in the future, it would continue to benefit students long after they graduate, even those who will not be attending the institution if it achieves the title.

“The value of your degree evolves over time,” she said. “If you come from a university that is improving over time, the value goes up.”

According to the Las Vegas Sun, currently a UNLV graduate can earn up to $16,380 more per year than a high school graduate.

Korgan said she was certain the university would compete with ASU in a matter of decades.

“In 1994, we were ranked a Carnegie Master’s Comprehensive Institution,” she said. “Since then, we made it to a doctoral granting institution to a research high institution. We have made incredible strides in the last 20 years.”

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