Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Testimony to Committee on Funding of Higher Education

Remarks for Committee on the Funding of Higher Education, May 23, 2012
Gregory S Brown
Chair, Faculty Senate, UNLV (2011-2012)
President, Nevada Faculty Alliance (2011-2013)

Mr Chairman and members of the committee, thank you once again for the opportunity for faculty to address you on the funding formula. By way of introducing several of my UNLV colleagues and some of our students today, I’d like to report some of the reactions of the UNLV faculty expressed in several Faculty Senate discussions of this issue. Among the views that have been frequently expressed are three significant points we support in the proposal before you and two additional issues that we would urge the committee to consider:

1.       We support that this process has generated enough public interest and new thinking that the Chancellor has pronounced the old formula “dead”.  No one has felt more acutely than the faculty the loss of credibility that NSHE suffered from under the old formula, and we welcome a new formula, based upon outcomes, which rewards academic achievement. 
2.     We support the principle that has been frequently expressed as retention of student fees and tuition by the campus. While that formulation makes it sound as if the campuses would be retaining additional revenues, the real principle that has been proposed is that student fees and tuition should continue to be retained on campus but no longer figure in the formula and thereby offset state support. We believe the formula should distribute Nevada general fund dollars according to Nevada’s goals and respect student choice by allowing students to distribute fees and tuition through their enrollment choices

3.       We support the principle of allocating Nevada state dollars to support Nevada students, and keeping non-resident tuition outside the formula.  Not only does this approach create an incentive for programs to achieve national and international prominence but it also clarifies the level of per student funding – Nevada allocation per Nevada student -- so that regional equity can be measured more clearly. 

The two points that our faculty will urge the committee to address are adequacy of funding for the entire System and mission differentiation among campuses, based upon student learning outcomes

1.       The Chancellor’s proposal, as you know, adopts the current fiscal year as its baseline and proposes only to redistribute that fixed sum among our campuses.
a.       We believe that the performance-based funding component, which you will discuss today, should provide a clear rationale for the state to restore some of the public support  that has been cut in the past 4 years – by directing incremental investment to those campuses that have shown efficiency and productivity in generating degrees.
b.      We also believe that the proposed discussion of local support for workforce development at community colleges, which is a part of how 29 of 51 states fund community colleges, is a necessary piece of the long-term solution. 
c.       Moreover, we believe that the proposed research factor for universities is an essential  first step (if financially inadequate in the current proposal) towards providing a stronger platform for the generation of new revenue from grants and contracts.
d.      In short, UNLV faculty believe that while the Chancellor has understandably (for political reasons) presented his alternative funding proposal as revenue-neutral, the committee should not overlook how the formula might establish an adequate level of funding. Even as faculty embrace a formula built upon principles of efficiency and productivity rather than merely cost, the view from the classroom is that adequacy of investment to fund the services our students need has not been sufficiently discussed to date.

2.       Finally and the topic that has generated the most intense discussion among my colleagues, and which several of them will address today, is how our policies differentiate among the different tiers of our System – especially at the level of instruction that is common to all our campuses, lower-division undergraduate courses.
a.       To date, this discussion has been raised almost entirely about cost – whether or not lower-division courses are more costly at a university or college. However, as the Chancellor has repeatedly stated, Nevada (unlike other states) has neither the resources nor the time at this juncture to undertake a cost study to answer that question, so any answer is speculative. Moreover, to focus solely on cost does not, in any meaningful sense, lead us to a new approach to funding higher education based on educational attainment. To focus only on cost in a revenue-neutral environment necessarily pits one campus or tier against another, to the good of none.
b.      If as Regent Wixom has stated, first at the Boards’ strategic planning retreat last fall and then at this committee’s most recent meeting, the purpose of this exercise is to move from a formula based on cost inputs to one based on the value-added  of our outputs, then the real question the committee ought to ask is not if it is more or less expensive to offer lower-division instruction at a university or college – but, instead, what are the student learning outcomes of a lower-division course at a university or college? And, should we expect them to be the same?
c.       Ms. Gansert noted, correctly, at the most recent meeting that “ENG 101” is the same on each campus. She was right to say so. Precisely because ENG 101 (and ENG 102) are the mandatory, introductory writing courses we offer on each campus for first-year students, and these courses do have identical learning objectives for the students in terms of what students should be able to do after they have completed the course.  Consequently these courses have highly comparable syllabi, staffing, and student assignments.  As a result, we would expect them to generate comparable learning outcomes were we to assess the results systematically. The same is true for the mandatory first-year Math courses (Math 120-131) and, by and large, for the mandatory first-year courses that fulfill Constitution requirements  (HIST 100, PSCI 100, 101). All these courses should be expected to have comparable learning outcomes on any campus. However, these courses represent less than 6% of the student credit hours achieved at UNLV.
d.      Nearly 50 % of the credit hours students earn at UNLV are in lower-division courses other than required composition, math or Constitution. Do we expect these lower-division first year courses in Sciences, or Business, or Urban Affairs, or Performing Arts, or History to have the same student learning outcomes at a university as at a college? Our faculty do not believe so.
                                                               i.      We believe for instance that lower-division Science courses that offer opportunities for laboratory research have demonstrated outcomes, in terms of better preparing students for success in upper-division science courses and thus for completing degrees in STEM fields, especially for Latino and African-American students traditionally under-represented in the sciences. I have submitted a short article (“Learning by Doing”) supporting that thesis, based on a February 2012 report from the Presidents’ Council on Science and Technology, that undergraduates exposed to laboratory research in their first year of study at universities like UCLA and the University of Texas were more likely to major in a STEM field and more likely to achieve their degree in a timely manner. I have also submitted a short list of undergraduate summer research opportunities in the Sciences at UNLV that are available to students from their first year on campus.  We will shortly hear from two scientists on this topic.
                                                             ii.      We believe that lower-division courses which offer students the opportunity to conduct research in a research library result in specific and measurable learning outcomes, and we have many lower-division courses that for this reason build library research into the syllabus. I have submitted several examples of syllabi from different disciplines with the library research assignments highlighted, and we will hear more from a librarian shortly.
                                                            iii.      We believe that lower-division learning communities, in which small groups of students enroll for first-year courses in a block schedule of university courses, have achieved measurable improvement in learning outcomes for first-year Greenspun Urban Affairs majors.  We will hear from the director of this program shortly.
                                                           iv.      We believe that the Lee School of Business Global Entrepreneurship Experience program, which offers students, from their first year, direct experiences in global entrepreneurship and in advanced economic research provides a learning outcome is distinct from lower-division courses in the same disciplines on other campuses.
                                                             v.      These examples, we believe, suggest that at the level not of cost but of policy priorities, the state and the System ought – through the new funding formula – to continue to discuss the major philosophical principle that has been articulated in this process, of a focus on student educational attainment. The formula should address what student learning outcomes are achieved, should measure those outcomes in qualitative terms, and should in the end find a way to encourage and reward the distinct achievements rather than argue about cost inputs.


  1. Greg; You make a nice case for UNLV but do you realize that as President of NFA you represent CSN as well? What hat were you wearing when you made that statement?

    Kevin F. Boyle

  2. Kevin - Those were my first thoughts too. The present funding formula has long pitted NSHE institutions against each other, to the good of none. UNLV may worry about that big bad CSN eating up its dollars, but from the CSN end of the street, it looks like a big, powerful university attacking the most impoverished institution in the system - AND the one that has the most disadvantaged students. Please UNLV, please Greg, just STOP.

  3. Also, Greg, will you be wearing a hat on Pawn Stars?

  4. Kevin, and Anonymous, I guess you missed the part where I explicitly called for more funding for community colleges and for more funding for the System in general. Interesting that no one else called for that today except me, but I'm the one you criticize.

    Indeed the Chancellor's proposal, for which I express qualified support in my statement, has a net shift of about $2m away from the universities (plus shifts money away from DRI). I realize you were expecting more for CSN but thats not really what I was talking about at all -- it was about focusing more on education and less on costs.

    Interesting by the way that you have nothing to say to your colleagues from GBC, WNC and TMCC who stand to lose millions of dollars primarily to CSN under the Chancellor's "revenue neutral proposal." They are the ones who fear CSN is eating up their dollars, and they are right to fear that, unless there is a good case made for enhanced funding for the entire System.

    I realize you don't like me Kevin and anything I say will you will present as favoring UNLV over CSN but if you actually follow the issues, you'll see that the problem is a conception that a new formula solves our problems without a net increase in support for NSHE, and that is what I spoke against today.

  5. Greg - I absolutely agree with you that the only solution is to add revenues to the whole system, and I agree that UNLV and CSN both need more funding, as do all of the other institutions.

    It is, however, inflammatory of you to describe CSN as "eating up the dollars" of the other community colleges, when the per student allotment as CSN is so very much less than the per student allotments at the three other community colleges. I don't have the exact numbers at my fingertips, but one of those schools gets twice as much as CSN per student, and the other two get 30% and 50% more. This despite the fact that CSN serves both urban and rural populations at three campuses and multiple satellite centers. Outside studies have repeatedly pointed to CSN as the institution with the greatest funding inequity in the state.

    I don't know anything about how you and Kevin feel about each other, but I appreciate the outstanding work you have done in your role. I still think that the pervasive disregard that UNLV has for CSN colors many of these conversations, and is particularly unpleasant given the relative disadvantages faced by CSN students.

  6. Anonymous #2, I took the "eating up" was from Kevin's comment.

    I agree entirely that CSN is underfunded per student (whether by FTE or headcount) compared to the other colleges. Thats precisely why CSN (and all our community colleges) need and should be getting local funding, especially for its workforce development programs, as most other states do.

  7. The Secular Student Alliance is currently pushing for more secular and atheist groups in high schools. Do you think this is a good thing? Should atheist teenagers be allowed to have their own high school groups just like Christians currently do?

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