The Changing Face of Education
Educators from eight of Nevada’s public and private institutions recently sat down to discuss the new challenges that higher education is facing such as recruitment, finding qualified faculty, managing growth and collaboration efforts with the business community. Connie Brennan, publisher of Nevada Business Journal, served as the moderator for the event as part of the magazine’s monthly Industry Focus series, which brings eaders together to discuss pertinent issues in their profession. Following is a condensed version of the discussion.
Connie Brennan (Nevada Business Journal): What is the biggest challenge for education in Nevada?
Debra March: Boy, I think that we have a number of challenges. One is identifying what our community needs and fulfilling those needs. You know, there are different views between whether we should have a full day kindergarten program, or maybe we should focus our energies on the ninth through 12th grades, preparing them to go on to college. Or, are we looking at vocational education? In my mind, we identify and prioritize our educational needs and begin to build all the resources here. I’m excited that we have so many new universities here in Southern Nevada because I think competition makes each institution better. We rise up and become more by having other opportunities, and not every university or program is going to address every student’s needs. So it’s important that we make education a priority. And we also need to look at wages in Southern Nevada and how we can attract a greater number of professionals into our work force so that we can mature as a community as well. I think that’s really important.
Lisa Ackerman: Finding qualified faculty to teach in the classroom — who are willing to teach in the classroom. It seems that we do not have as many graduates — bachelor’s-prepared and master’s-prepared individuals — in our state. Of course, we’re all trying to make that a better situation now, but finding qualified faculty and keeping them is a real problem.
Mitchell Forman: For us, I think the interest in this community is centered on growth and development, because when you look at the inventory of resources, they’re really phenomenal. The difficulty is that very rarely did we find that people spoke to one another. We could not identify where they were doing things that allowed collaborative effort. And I think once you develop that inventory of resources, it allows us to go to the next step. The difficulty is finding a way to collaborate between the public and private sectors. Unfortunately, we are still dealing with turf wars and control issues, and we’re trying to move past that to benefit the state of Nevada. In terms of healthcare, we have limited resources — and because we are unable to attract the physicians and other healthcare professionals we need quickly enough — they will remain limited for the foreseeable future. Working together to harness those limited resources, and grow our own healthcare professionals — which is a concept we’ve embraced — we have to train them and grow them here.
Harry Rosenberg: Our biggest problem is how to manage growth. There is such a tremendous demand for the services of the healthcare profession. Our problem is how to manage that growth, how to manage the limited resources, as Mitch was saying. That’s where we have to cooperate to increase the capacities.
Greg Schlauch: Our biggest challenge right now is the quality of student coming out of our adult population. Ensuring that their skill-set is university-accepted is a real challenge. And especially in our diverse economy with people who work in one job for the first five years out of high school and realize they have to return to school for advancement, and try to get into a “university mode.” So trying to have that flexibility and adapting to that type of student has become a real challenge.
Fred Maryanski: Our particular problem is getting buildings built on our campus. And I think that’s certainly a growth issue that many of us face. If we look across the state, I think one thing we have to pay more attention to is preparing for these partnerships, working together. We have a very good relationship with the Community College of Southern Nevada. We have a joint program with Touro University, and others with the University of Southern Nevada. I think that given the demand for a qualified work force in this state, we really need to work together to promote higher education for the good of citizens and the overall community.
Richard Carpenter: In terms of challenges, it’s hard to say what the greatest challenge is. One, is public education’s graduation success rate which measures the percentage of Nevada students who successfully move on to public higher education it reflects some of the lowest percentages in our state. The portion of our budget spent on direct student support in Nevada ranks as 50th from 50 states. What I would argue is that there is a direct correlation of what you spend versus what you get out, specifically in public education, not investing enough money in direct student support.
Frank Lassus: When you have a good economy — and we have a great economy in Las Vegas — a lot of people don’t necessarily want to go to school. Kids from high school, without even a high school diploma, come here to Las Vegas and get work at a pretty decent wage, probably at a wage higher than those teachers who taught them in high school. So that’s one of our major challenges here, is trying to sell higher education in an environment where you can go park cars for $60,000 a year. “Why should I go get a degree and go be a teacher and earn, $30,000?” So that’s one of the challenges.
March: I would like to piggyback on that because there is that consciousness here in our community that, you can just go out and get a job at the casinos and there are plenty of jobs in the construction industry. I think we have to create that sense of education, being an important piece of the pie. I think that hasn’t always been encouraged or developed because education competes with the resort industry, which quickly hires high school graduates and puts them to work because the industry needs a work force. To get the diverse economy that we want in this community, we have to educate these employers so they can offer jobs in other areas.
Ackerman: Along with the challenge of the resort industry’s low-skill, high-paying jobs, another one of the challenges that we definitely have to address is a new type of student. Although in the past, it was common to see full-time students who worked part-time, now we’re tending to see the employee who studies. So you’ve got a full-time working person who’s trying to fit this whole school environment into his or her world and it can be very challenging. In particular, we continue to examine our educational services, how we deliver those services and whether or not the entire package we provide is sufficient for each student to reach his or her educational goals.
Brennan: Is finding qualified instructors and faculty a problem unique to Nevada, or is it a national problem?
Schlauch: That’s definitely a national problem. Numerous studies, articles and statistics report that the terminal degree individual is fading away. In accreditation, we want terminal degree individuals. So when we start looking at those folks who are approaching retirement, they’re opting to leave the work force, many have the credentials, but coming back to teach is not something that appeals to them.
Forman: On the healthcare side, we are experiencing something that I think is both unique in our area, as well as nationally. When you come to this area in terms of, cost of living, if you are from the East Coast, New York or California, this is a good thing. But when you come from Texas, as I did, it wasn’t. By comparison, it is quite expensive to live here. Again, the issue is one of growing our own, developing our own. If you train healthcare professionals here, they are much more likely to stay here. And I think that’s the principle that we try to follow in terms of attracting students, attracting more faculty, and forming partnerships and relationships with organizations.
Rosenberg: In the healthcare field, if you look at how it’s coming down to the retirement of the baby boomers with their increasing requirements for access to healthcare services, and a correspondng need to hire additional healthcare personnel, everybody sees that. The response should be to increase the number of healthcare professional schools. And not just in the private sector; the state institutions must make every effort to maximize their enrollment. I think we need to look at innovative ways for both sectors to share resources.
Carpenter: Finding qualified faculty is definitely a national problem. However, we do have a rising cost of living in Nevada and our faculty pay scale is less than the national average, but the cost of living here exceeds the national average and continues to rise. Consequently, these two factors are converging to create a problem more serious in Nevada than anywhere else.
Brennan: Do you have difficulty in recruiting out-of-market?
Carpenter: For us, right now it depends on salary. The problem is that if you represent a large school and you raise your salaries to recruit at current market value, you have salary compression with the other nursing faculty salaries already weakened by Nevada’s rising cost of living. And the cost of going back and equalizing all of those salaries would be insurmountable. So it’s a double whammy.
Brennan: Do you believe the staffing problem is going to get worse?
Rosenberg: Let me just give you a comparison. We have a pharmacy program here and one in Utah. We have a much easier time recruiting faculty there than in this area.
Schlauch: I think it was Secretary Spelling, the education secretary, who made the comment, “no adult left behind.” So I think we are seeing the birth of another buzz phrase. What’s the return on investment for students attending these schools? What are they getting out of this? And we’re going to have a score card. That score card will be used to measure how well we did our jobs.
Forman: Another important point is that the private sector brings something new and unique to the table that costs the state zero and the taxpayers nothing, really. The established, state-subsidized public institutions must demonstrate a willingness to relinquish some control and work with the private sector markets. I think this is another part of the equation that needs to be addressed. We have to understand that sometimes we need to decide for the benefit of the state. If we are not willing to do it, it’s going to be much more difficult, considering the limited resources we have in this state.
Maryanski: In order to solve the faculty recruitment problem, we have to be somewhat creative in searching the market for faculty. The traditional faculty staff member is someone who earns a Ph.D or M.D. by age 30 or so, and spends his or her whole life in a faculty role. That number is diminishing. But in our institution, and I think most of the institutions around the table, our focus is on teaching, not research. A lot of people without the advanced degrees are good communicators and are capable of doing well as instructors in a classroom environment. This is an example of the creativity we need to implement in the near future.
Brennan: Do you think that teachers are doing a good job teaching K-12th grade students? Are they prepared for college?
Schlauch: I think they are doing a magnificent job with the resources they have on hand, right now. My challenge is the adult learner mentality. When they leave high school, they leave K through 12 with a certain skill set, and over time, that skill set diminishes. I’ve got people who are 77-years-old sitting in classes. It’s real hard to teach a 77 year old about Microsoft Office and Power Point. So, we have to invest in extra resources, the extra time and the extra effort to bring our adult learners up to certain standards.
Forman: When do students decide they want to be that doctor or nurse? As educators, how do we best help them achieve their goals? We need to identify the interests in students, nurture them early on and connect them with mentors who are at the graduate level. We have to create academic assisting programs, especially if you want to look at representatives of minorities that traditionally are not paid well. We have to identify their weaknesses early on, and assist them in the next step. And that costs money. And we can do that, I think, more effectively and more efficiently, sometimes working for them and trying to find opportunities in the community.
Carpenter: I think public schools are doing a good job, but obviously there is some failure. Thirty-seven percent of the graduates from Clark County School District, including those with high grade-point averages, will need remedial courses before they can actually begin college-level courses. But before we get too uptight about that figure, 34 percent is the national average. So it’s not like they’re worse than the rest of the country. So 37 percent of those students who are leaving that school system and entering our colleges think they can earn a degree in two to four years, and they can’t. Many high school graduates have to take classes for a whole year before they actually begin college-level work. But I don’t think the quality of public education, in Nevada or outside of Nevada, has plummeted to the extent we can’t do something. There probably needs to be a closer partnership with higher education, and we have discussed this in past years. I have a son who is in the 11th grade. He’s telling me already how great his senior year is going to be because he will only have to go to school for two hours a day. Well, he is not alone. That’s the academic work load of most high-school seniors.
Ackerman: Something we started doing in the last few months is that as new students enter, we conduct an assessment of each one. The assessment allows us to ascertain whether that student has any gaps that can handicap him or her at this level, whether it’s studying skills or writing skills, or math. And we’ve just started offering free tutoring, free mentoring, workshops, labs, etc. They are very popular. But a lot of times the problem is a lack of confidence and not a lack of skills.
Brennan: Beyond the collaboration with each other, how can businesses work with education to help raise the bar?
Schlauch: One of things we see happening right now in businesses is the lack of successful training. For example, the entrepreneur who has run his company for the past 30 years would like to step down and retire. However, because he did not begin the process of grooming a replacement several years ago, no one is adequately prepared to succeed him. There is a gap there. We need to go out and find those gaps and help those businesses understand that education a lifelong process. Once again, in a common misconception, one completes college, earns a degree, begins a job, and believes one’s education to be complete. But often, that is not necessarily the case.
Ackerman: In the state of Nevada, only 12.2 percent of our population has earned a bachelor’s degree. The national average was 17.2 percent.
Brennan: With more and more students taking online classes, do you think there will be a time when classrooms aren’t necessary?
Lassus: I think classrooms are always going to be necessary. There is a large percentage of students who require a rigid schedule. There’s always going to be a certain number of students who need that face time with an instructor. Now, could that be done over a computer with our current generations? I could very easily envision an online class where the student creates an electronic version of himself, as do his classmates and the teacher, and these electronic characters interact with one another in a virtual classroom while the real people participate from their computers. I could see that becoming the educational model of the future where you get that kind of hybrid of both.
Ackerman: The new generation lives on MySpace. It’s scary. But I agree, two different types of students can pursue an online education. It requires a person with a certain amount of self-motivation. You still have the deadlines. In an online environment, you never get to sit in that classroom. In a real classroom, whether large or small, students have the opportunity to participate, more or less. But in an online environment and we have pretty much pioneered it, you have to respond. You have to engage. You have to work very hard through it. It’s not harder, it’s different.
Forman: We have looked at online education from a number of different ways. I mean, from the efficiency of utilizing a limited number of faculty, it seems like an ideal way of doing things. You know, one faculty member can impact significant numbers of people. On the other hand, we have looked at it from the standpoint of adult learning strategies. Adults learn very differently. I never acknowledged this in the past, but I see that it’s boring to sit in a class where all you do are Power Point presentations. We need to better utilize technology, and use more innovative, exciting ways of learning. I think that’s changing the way we do business. So when we create a facility now, we are looking at smaller classrooms. We have to create these small breakout rooms that become an important part of the facility rather than the old huge amphitheater-style classrooms. I think the efficiency of using a smaller number of faculty has changed the way we’ve taught adults. We keep putting more of the responsibility on the shoulders of the students. “You’re required to teach yourself this. We will be there to support you, but you are going to learn this particular topic on your own.” That’s something we have explored and I know other schools have explored it too.
Carpenter: I would agree. I don’t think that we will see classrooms done away with for many reasons. Our online class sizes are actually smaller than the ones that are in the physical classrooms. My wife teaches half of her courses online. I can understand why they’re small, because her students expect her to be available 24 hours a day. If there is a five-hour period when she hasn’t answered an e-mail, she gets another request saying, “I sent you something at 5:00 this morning. It’s 9:30 and I haven’t heard from you.” But for us, 90 percent of our students live within 20 miles of our campuses. The majority of our students are also online students, but they are also in-class students. So I think there is a socialization process that we can never put online. We can substitute all kinds of things, but I don’t see that happening.