Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, and Dan Klaich, chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education, told the Senate Education Committee that two bills under review — SB 449 and SB 451— would help the state's higher education system meet its financial and student needs.
Under SB 449 schools would be able to charge higher fees for programs that cost more money. Klaich said students would most likely see the increases in their junior and senior years, when program costs rise as classes become smaller and the teaching more intense.
SB 449 also contains what Horsford called safeguards. The bill requires the Board of Regents to establish scholarship and loan forgiveness programs. It also requires regents to reduce fees and tuition for students in need.
Horsford said the financial support is essential because students "shouldn't be directed into an academic program based on what you can afford."
There was concern about the impact rising costs could have on families who have already plunked down money into prepaid tuition programs. People can use the programs to prepay registration fees now so they will be covered in the future at a presumably lower rate. Crystal Abba, associate vice chancellor, told the panel that prepaid tuition only covers the per-credit fees, not other costs associated with courses such as lab assessments.
Sen. Greg Brower, R-Reno, said he was concerned SB 449 could allow the state to increase fees to the point that they amount to tuition rates paid by out-of-state students.
Klaich agreed, saying, "It opens the door, senator."
Horsford defended the measure, saying it's essential to allow rates to rise because "the cost for higher education for some areas has gone up and will continue to go up." He also said the change would help save some programs that would "otherwise be lost altogether."
Horsford and Klaich also presented SB451. The bill would allow schools to keep the money they raise from fees and funnel it toward programs that fill a regional economic need, such as renewable energy and health sciences.
Horsford said the bill provides an "entrepreneurial approach" to education by giving colleges the flexibility to focus on programs that can provide students with marketable skills that are linked with in-demand fields.
Horsford said schools have been doing this since 2009 through an unofficial form referred to as a letter of intent, but SB451 would give schools the necessary latitude to focus on creating effective programming that meets economic demands.
Horsford noted that this would not be an academic free-for-all because SB 451 requires the Board of Regents to defend expenditures to the Legislature or the Legislative Commission. The annual report would include effectiveness measures such as how many students register for a given program and how many complete it.
Kyle George, chairman of the Nevada Student Alliance, said students support both bills.
But he also urged the panel not to allow broad-based liberal arts programs to suffer because other courses of study may carry a higher price tag.
George also said he backed SB 451 if it helped schools stay afloat.
No action was taken on either bill.