UNLV President speaks of a new, post-budget cuts era for university

University President Neal Smatresk said UNLV will strengthen its focus on research, education and infrastructure during the State of the University address on Thursday.

Smatresk discussed UNLV’s current fiscal status and focused on how UNLV will move forward after budget cuts made to the Nevada System of Higher Education institution by Gov. Brian Sandoval.

“We have lost $73 million and over 700 positions since 2007,” Smatresk said.

Smatresk said that UNLV is currently on solid financial ground with a sustainable budget and its core academic programs protected.

“This is critical because students need to know they have got a solid set of programs that they can select from as they move forward to complete their careers and career aspirations,” Smatresk said.

During the speech, Smatresk expanded on the fact that students have faced a 13 percent tuition increase for the fall semester, which he acknowledged created barriers for access to the university.

He mentioned, however, that if the NSHE Board of Regents approved an additional tuition increase for NSHE institutions, UNLV could generate $6.8-$8.5 million for a rebuilding effort to invest in areas where the state and the students need support.

Regarding possible tuition increases for the following academic year, Undergraduate Student Body President Sarah Saenz stated that every year, tuition increases should be expected, but that CSUN Student Government would fight for the increases to be less than 13 percent.

“[The increases] are not beneficial to students, but it’s a bigger picture,” Saenz said. “It’s about the institution and running a school.”

As part of the key planning priorities that Smatresk outlined during his speech, he stated that UNLV is looking to improve scholarships in order to recruit highly skilled freshmen, as well as implementing a more demanding curriculum and recruiting a more diverse faculty.

As part of the future improvement to the university, Smatresk stated that UNLV would become more selective with enrollment in particular.

“These small changes are better for the university,” Saenz said. “Students know coming in that we are looking to improve the value of the degree here at UNLV.”

Additionally, Smatresk stated that UNLV would hire faculty teams to “enhance strengths and reputation” of the university, increase retention and recruitment of graduate assistants and Ph.D. students as well as “address needs for research space and infrastructure.”

Smatresk stated that the budget cuts led to decreased health benefits for faculty and staff and that UNLV is looking to move out of the Public Employee Benefits Program (PEBP), adding that he hopes UNLV will be able to offer a better health care package for faculty next year and that the administration is currently discussing “direct supplemental healthcare benefits” with the board of regents.

“The healthcare benefits that we have this year [are] hurting our faculty,” Smatresk said. “It’s making it difficult for people to get critically needed healthcare.”

During the speech, Smatresk stated that UNLV needs $14 million in bridge funding and that a one-time payday shift would allow administration to generate $17 million.

“Through the expedient measure of shifting the payday from the end of the month to the beginning of the next month, we will be able to generate approximately $17 million in one-time funds,” Smatresk said. “That will cover the … funding that we need to go through this year. It’s a trick you can do once, now is the time to do it.”

Smatresk stated that UNLV has $1 million in funds available for strategic investments to hire new faculty and replace faculty and staff.

Additionally, Smatresk stated that some measures taken by administration have yielded benefits for the university, including differential tuition and educational outreach.

“I am proud to say that those programs were successful and that the board approved them,” he said. “Differential tuition and self-funding are stable. They were not on the chopping blocks.”

Contact Maria Ágreda at news@unlvrebelyell.com