The university has three main missions, according to University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) president Milton D. Glick: to prepare an educated workforce while at the same time, helping to create high-value jobs for that workforce; to prepare leaders, help create an educated citizenry and encourage people to live as full a life as possible; and third, to discover new knowledge through university research. The university also needs to be responsive to what the business community wants and what the business community needs, Glick said, and added, “Those are overlapping, but not necessarily identical.”
Part of what the business community needs is to create new industries, in order to insure Nevada is a place that attracts a creative class of people. “Those are the people who invent jobs you and I can’t even visualize,” said Glick. “Universities are a part of that.” That is part of how education answers the needs of business – by providing the business and the people who run the businesses.
Symbiosis: Business and Education
There are no great cities without great universities and no great economies that don’t also involve intellectual pursuits. Higher education doesn’t create such conditions on its own, but higher education working together with regional business creates the environment for such conditions to evolve.
“What [universities] do is attract creative, innovative people who want to be around the university. The university is the catalyst, but it can’t do that by being an island,” said president Glick. The university and the community form a symbiotic relationship – each helping the other. In the end, the university becomes integral to the community.”
But do universities and colleges provide the business community with the workforce it needs, and how much of that workforce preparation is the university system responsible for? Universities educate people – it’s up to the people themselves to decide what to do with their skills and in today’s rapidly changing job market, it’s possible that specific skills are less necessary than a general desire and ability to learn. There’s a perception in the business community that higher education isn’t answering all its needs and that students aren’t as prepared for the workforce as the industry needs them to be.
“There is a constant tug between what companies need in workers’ skill sets and whether or not it’s all the university’s responsibility to provide that,” said University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) president David B. Ashley. A recent survey prepared by UNLV faculty and reported by the Las Vegas Sun indicated that companies feel employees fall short in the area of business etiquette – neglecting to call when they’re going to be late, failing to show up altogether, dressing inappropriately and the like – but is it really up to higher education to be mentors in such areas? Or does the industry have a bigger need for trained individuals with useable skills, and is higher education providing those skills?
Educating the Workforce for Business
In Southern Nevada, UNLV works within the business community to determine the needs and wants of businesses for the future workforce. Most of the colleges have advisory boards comprised of graduates from the programs and professionals from the industry who can advise the dean and the faculty on trends within specific industry and business needs, and suggest ways to develop programs to meet industry needs.
“Each of our 221 different degree programs has a major that is determined by faculty who are experts in that field,” said Ashley. At the same time, Ashley believes a thorough well- rounded education is necessary for graduates to work successfully in business. He puts equal emphasis on the general education courses all students are required to complete. “I’ve asked our faculty – led by the provost – to look at the core curriculum for core degrees and the general education requirements to make sure we’re matching real education of students and how they will be productive in their future careers.”
Larry D. Large, president, CEO, said Sierra Nevada College works with the business community through a board of trustees composed of very successful business operatives throughout the state. Those individuals function in an oversight role to review academic programs and ascertain whether or not the theoretical and preparatory work the college teaches actually prepares students for careers in specific industries.
It’s generally been the role of community colleges to train the workforce in applied trades and teach skills that can be used the next day. Currently, many community colleges are moving past traditional roles, dropping “community” from the name and beginning to offer four-year degrees. Western Nevada College began offering its first bachelor’s degree in construction management in July 2007, in response to the needs of the business community.
Moving at the Speed of Business
“I think it’s the same in business as it is in education, that the times and the population we serve are changing so rapidly that it’s very important for us to continually access ourselves and make sure we’re adapting to current conditions of society and population,” said Lisa Ackerman, vice president, director, Las Vegas campus, University of Phoenix. What worked in the past may not necessarily work now, she said, and colleges need to constantly assess what students are learning and whether or not this will make them successful in the future and help them make a difference in the community.
When it comes to students from almost any discipline, the one constant heard over and over is the need for more. Whatever the discipline, the need exists statewide for graduates holding degrees. The business community has an ongoing need for educated, intelligent and flexible people.
“We’re growing so fast in so many areas – engineering, financial services, accounting, you name it – we need more graduates coming out of the system, and I think the only specifics we hear is we need them to know how to learn,” said Jason Geddes, manager, government affairs, Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada, who also serves on the Board of Regents, University of Nevada, Reno. “They need to know how to learn, communicate verbally and have written skills that pertain to their own industries.”
It’s a need that’s not necessarily being addressed. Industries are changing so fast and people are moving around so often that businesses need flexibility and the ability to learn as much as possible about specific skills in different trades. The universities and community colleges are adapting to these new needs, though community colleges may be moving faster. For example, Western Nevada Community College recently created a construction management program and brought in a dozen members from the community to determine the need for the program and to develop the curriculum.
While the university excels in working with industry advisory councils and creating partnerships with business, it still moves ponderously when adapting to changes within industries. This can be both a good and a bad thing, said Geddes, since it means entire programs aren’t overhauled in a knee-jerk reaction to one-industry phenomenon.
Although sometimes, an educational institution is created in response to community need. Nevada State
College (NSC), now five years old, offers four-year degrees in nursing and was created in response to the need for more trained and educated nurses in Nevada’s healthcare field.
Community Colleges and the Community
In answering the needs of business and industry for an educated workforce, the higher education system forms a continuum with universities at one end and community colleges at the other, according to president Glick. “Together we can do things better by sharing responsibilities than we could do alone.”
“The relationship between a university and a community college is not always well understood,” said president Ashley. “I think the university as a whole is a great supporter of the community college system because the business community needs a trained workforce and people with different skills and talents, many of whom are well served by the type of courses offered at a community college. When the community college fulfills the workforce needs, that frees the university from being the solution for everybody. We don’t need to be the place where everyone has access to higher education, and [community colleges] allow us to concentrate on four-year degrees and graduate degrees and to conduct research as our part of accomplishments.”
Research is an integral part of the university system, beneficial to both the state’s residents, as well as its businesses. A university conducting active research into specific industries makes the community surrounding that university attractive to businesses looking to relocate or expand and boosts the area’s economy.
Community colleges can provide contract training for specific industries’ specific needs, can train students to hit the workforce ground running and can target specific industries such as healthcare or construction which have instant needs for more trained employees.
Community colleges also have the strength of being in the community. Great Basin College (GBC) services 3500 students throughout Nevada’s rural areas, including Nye County, Battle Mountain, Elko, Ely, Pahrump and Winnemucca with 19 satellite centers in other rural communities. Following the trend of community colleges, they’ve recently instituted a bachelor’s program in social work, working in partnership with University of Nevada, Reno, according to John Patrick Rice, director of institutional advancement, GBC.
“Nevada is at a very interesting period in its growth,” said Glick. “It’s going to continue its dramatic expansion, and while gaming will always be a centerpiece of our economy, it will not be the whole economy, and we will no longer have a monopoly on the gaming world. As our population increases from 3 million to 6 million to 8 million people, it’s important we grow jobs that pay a good wage, and attract bright and creative people to the university.”
“Our mission is to educate the next generation of professionals for the state of Nevada,” said Fred Maryanski, president, Nevada State College (NSC). “So as we grow, we will be responsive to the needs of the business community by investing our students with the tools and skills to become valuable, productive employees as quickly as possible.”
Alternative Post-Secondary Education Choices in Nevada
For a number of years now, Nevada’s statewide corporate community has charged that the university and community college system isn’t doing enough to prepare students for the workforce. But Nevada offers a great many schools and opportunities, said Lisa Ackerman, vice president, director, Las Vegas campus, University of Phoenix. More likely the weakness in Nevada’s workforce is that students are not necessarily motivated to get an education when they can earn good money without a degree.
“So few individuals have a degree in Nevada – we’re fourth from the bottom of states for number of individuals holding degrees. If I’m a business owner and I want someone with a degree to fill a specific position, I’m probably not going to get as many
resumes as if I did not require a degree,” said Ackerman. “Sometimes businesses relax educational requirements in order to hire someone with a substantial amount of previous experience, who will be successful.”
Alternative post-secondary education in Nevada ranges from the state university system to private and community colleges and everything in between. Some of the alternatives to the university system include:
Nevada State College (NSC) was established five years ago, and expects to enroll 2,000 students this September. NSC’s primary areas of emphasis are on nursing and education. The 2006-07 school year saw the largest concentration of students in the nursing programs, a total of 552, with 325 students in the education program. NSC has credit transfer agreements with all Nevada community colleges and has graduated more than 400 students. Most funding comes from the state, with the remaining 25 percent from tuition. “There’s a huge demand for nursing students,” said Fred Maryanski, president. “One of the reasons the college was created was in order to respond to that shortage and in the next 10 to 15 years a wave of [nursing] retirements is expected to exacerbate the problem.”
Also tackling the need for allied healthcare employees is Truckee Meadows Community College (TMCC) which has a high concentration of students in dental hygiene, veterinarian and nursing programs. TMCC is the fastest growing community college in Nevada and No. 26 nationwide, and has recently instituted a fast-track program for nursing students who already have degrees in other fields and want to get their nursing credentials, according to interim president Delores Sanford.
University of Phoenix boasts 120 campuses nationwide, which affords relocating students the opportunity to transfer to a sister campus and continue their education where they left off. University of Phoenix established its first Nevada campus 14 years. Today, six locations – five in Southern Nevada and one Northern Nevada – have combined statewide registration of 3,900 students. Programs focus on the facilitative model, according to Ackerman. The information passed on to students in the classroom can be applied the next day on their jobs. Currently, the most popular programs are business management, business administration, accounting, criminal justice and human services. University of Phoenix is a private school funded by tuition and feeds into Nevada’s economy because of the taxes it pays.
Sierra Nevada College (SNC) is a private non-profit liberal arts college with three campuses located in
Incline Village, Reno and Las Vegas. SNC has agreements with community colleges to transfer credits so incoming students can finish four-year degrees and offers degree programs in more than a dozen fields. The college doesn’t receive appropriations from the Nevada Legislature, but operates off tuition, endowments and gifts. By working with a board of trustees comprised of successful businesspeople and providing students with internship opportunities in their chosen fields, SNC addresses the business community’s need for workforce-ready students, according to Larry D. Large, president, CEO.
College of Southern Nevada (CSN) offers both credit and non-credit programs so students can learn specific skills, take general education classes or retrain to reenter the workforce. CSN works with advisory councils to solicit current and relevant input for curriculum, according to Dr. Michael Richards, interim president. Some 37,000 students are currently enrolled on three campuses and 15 sites throughout Clark and Lincoln counties. CSN is the third largest community college in the U.S.
One of the 25 division branches of Touro University California is located in Henderson. Touro is a Jewish-sponsored non-profit institution. Two colleges are located on the Nevada campus, one in osteopathic medicine and the other in health and human services. The private college offers four-year degrees in education, nursing, occupational therapy, osteopathic medicine and physicians assistants programs.
University of Southern Nevada started as the Nevada College of Pharmacy, a private non-profit institution, in 1999. In 2004, the college added an MBA program with an emphasis in healthcare, and in 2006, a nursing program.
Since its establishment in 1959, the Desert Research Institute (DRI) has partnered with faculty members from other institutions to get students involved in their research programs. DRI, with campuses in Reno and Las Vegas, partners with the university system in their dedication to benefiting the community through research. “For example, several of our students work along the Las Vegas wash trying to understand the sources of pollution,” said Dr. Stephen Wells, president of DRI.
Regis University established in 1877, was founded in Jesuit education. Currently, two campuses reside in Las Vegas, the first built in 1999 in Henderson and the second in 2001 in Summerlin. The college offers accelerated learning and financial aid for a variety of programs including accounting, psychology, science, education and liberal arts.