Nevada’s quality of life and pro-business environment score A’s with newcomers to the state. More than 600,000 new residents are expected by 2010. But Nevada’s higher education still gets F’s.
According to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, Nevada’s high school graduation rate is 62 percent, ranking 39th nationally. Nevada places 50th for the percentage of students going directly to college after graduation. “Fewer than 20 percent of Nevada’s citizens have baccalaureate degrees,” said Dr. Carol Harter, president of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV). “If you’re trying to build high-tech industries and diversify the economy, you need a very educated population.”
The State College
Nevada educators have struggled with this for years. It’s why the University and Community College System of Nevada (UCCSN) asked the RAND Corporation’s Council for Aid to Education to help them better spend the system’s $989 million budget. RAND’s suggestions included a system of state colleges and an expansion of university research programs. One of the UCCSN’s first steps was to build Nevada State College in Henderson.
“Most states have state colleges, which are regional in focus as opposed to national,” said Dr. Patricia Miltenberger, president of Nevada State College. “State colleges are designed to serve the needs of the state, to prepare the workforce of a region.” Miltenberger explained that mission differentiation for each aspect of higher education is crucial in answering Nevada’s needs. While a university focuses on offering comprehensive research and education from baccalaureate to masters and doctoral levels, state colleges typically offer comprehensive education at the baccalaureate level only, with regional niche programs to serve the community’s needs.
“Nevada has been shaped like an hourglass,” said Harter. “The universities were on top, the community colleges were on the bottom, and there was nothing in the middle. Universities were the only ones offering baccalaureate degrees.” Harter said both universities aspire to be nationally recognized educational institutions, but can’t do that without a state college. “We need to be more doctoral intensive, and yet we’re still carrying a huge load of undergrads,” she explained. “We need help. We want to increase our entry requirements, but without an alternative for students, we can’t do it.”
Opponents argued that the state college would deplete the enrollment-based funding the universities received. “Starting a state college was politically turbulent, but the university presidents saw it as a good thing,” said Jill Derby, vice-chair of the UCCSN Board of Regents. “In the south, they didn’t want a competitor in the neighborhood. It’s worked out well so far, but we took a lot of flak.”
Competition hasn’t negatively affected the numbers. Nevada State College opened in fall 2002 with 177 students. Last spring, 738 students enrolled; this fall it could reach 1,000. Its current focus is on training teachers and nurses, the two professions most acutely underserved in Nevada.
The Crunch of Growth
Enrollment has steadily increased at all UCCSN institutions. As assistant chancellor Trudy Larson explained, this positive trend still creates problems. Total full-time enrollment in Nevada was 58,300 last fall, and the head count, which includes part-time students, was 99,600. “We expect another 50 percent enrollment increase in the next 10 years,” said Larson. This creates challenges regarding class size, space and scheduling.
Larson said UCCSN hopes to increase night classes, online classes and distance education. There is almost enough classroom space, if scheduling is done properly. But she said there still isn’t enough office space for faculty, and for some vocational training programs there simply isn’t adequate space at all.
Preparing the Workforce
All UCCSN institutions are working to prepare students for the workplace. The University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) and UNLV work very closely with state and local economic development authorities to provide talent to the state’s high-tech businesses. And as university research facilities grow, Nevada will become an even more attractive place for the highly educated to stay and work.
But community colleges are largely responsible for adapting to the community’s workforce needs. In answer to critics who say they aren’t doing enough, Jowel Laguerre, vice-president for academic affairs at Truckee Meadows Community College (TMCC) in Reno, explained it’s not just about keeping up with Nevada’s growth; the demographics are shifting. “It’s still a service economy, primarily, but that’s slowly changing. Colleges and universities need to do more outreach. Students may not come to us, so we need to go to them. We need to be better at providing access.”
TMCC’s federally-funded Tech Prep program provides opportunities for high school students to earn college credits. Working directly with employers is another solution. TMCC’s workplace literacy program, and Western Nevada Community College’s (WNCC) Business & Industry program work with employers to provide on-the-job training. Instructors from a variety of industries customize and implement training programs for the workplace.
“When I talk with employers, they tell me they don’t have a training budget. But it can’t all be solved by the educational organizations. Workplace involvement has to happen. It’s the only thing I’ve seen work,” said Tim Morsani, coordinator of Business & Industry at WNCC.
The Community College of Southern Nevada’s (CCSN) Engineering Technology Program helps draw high-tech industries to Nevada. Engineering partnerships between CCSN and major corporations have increased. CCSN’s automotive training program and the Dunn Advanced Technology Center provide workplace training.
Great Basin College in Elko offers a bachelor of applied sciences degree, which equips rural areas with needed training for miners, surveyors and industrial plant workers. Video streaming delivery helps courses to reach Great Basin’s 45,000-square-mile service area.
Leadership and Vision
Jim Rogers is passionate about partnerships between schools and businesses. When Jane Nichols resigned as chancellor this spring, Rogers, a nationally recognized business leader, stepped in for the interim. The millionaire philanthropist agreed to take the reins for the short term, drawing almost no salary for what could be up to three years, while a national search is conducted for a new chancellor. Rogers sees many challenges in Nevada’s higher education system.
“Nevada has developed faster than its schools have. We’re behind,” he stated. Because of this, and the ongoing difficulty receiving state funds, Rogers insisted that private industry is the answer. “No state legislature ever built a great university. All the greatest schools were built by private money.” So far, Rogers has already managed to help UNLV secure $40 million for its Greenspun School of Journalism.
The 2005 Legislative Session
Rogers and the UCCSN Board of Regents have a long wish list for legislators. At the top of that list will be Nevada State College’s first classroom building, and four or five additional campuses around the state. UCCSN also wants funding for hiring increases, program enhancements to answer the needs of changing demographics, and capital improvements for all schools.
Up for debate is the issue of appointing members to the Board of Regents, as opposed to the current election method. “The Legislature is behind it, because of some public disagreements amongst the board members” said Trudy Larson, assistant chancellor. “But diversity is what causes that. And I think diversity has been really important in serving all the different populations in the state. So we expect there will be dialogue about that.”
As a result of a class action lawsuit against four major tobacco companies, Nevada was awarded a settlement of $1.2 billion over 25 years. Lawmakers used the windfall to enhance health programs, and to create the Millennium Scholarship in 1999. Because of Nevada’s low rate of college attendance, lawmakers hoped the Millennium Scholarship would attract more students to college. They projected the money would last for 10 years, and that 50 percent of Nevadans who qualified for the scholarship would actually use it.
“Beginning with the class of 2000, 74 percent of those qualified have used it,” said State Treasurer Brian Krolicki. “That’s wonderful news. It was designed to change lives and the economy for years to come. However, the money is running out.” A contingency in the tobacco settlement said that if people slow tobacco use, Nevada loses money. And instead of receiving a lump sum, the amount was paid in installments. This has helped decrease the amount of money Nevada receives annually.
In response, 2003 legislators adjusted the Millennium Scholarship’s high school GPA requirements from 2.0 to 2.6. Once offered, the scholarship is good for six years, down from eight. To keep the scholarship, students must maintain a 3.25 grade point average in college, up from 3.0.
Lawmakers and the Board of Regents hope these calibrations will help keep the scholarship in place. “There is no state-funded, needs-based scholarship. Most opportunities in Nevada are federal, and that’s unusual,” said Larson. “The Millennium Scholarship has made a big difference.”
Can Nevada Make the Grade?
Administrators, lawmakers and educators agree that in order for higher education in Nevada to thrive, they need more money. “We’re becoming increasingly entrepreneurial to find ways to fix things,” said Harter. Dr. John Lilley, president of the University of Nevada, Reno, agreed that managing growth is tough, but possible. “We’re working very hard to increase enrollment and the diversity of our programs,” he said. “Shame on us if we just get bigger. We also need to get better.”