The Higher Education Collaborative was formed in Southern Nevada in 2010 with the aim of answering multiple needs for post-secondary education, the community, residents and the Valley’s economy.
The organization is especially relevant today with the challenges to Nevada’s education. According to 2008 Census data, of the 1.4 million working age adults (24-65 years old), only 30 percent have an associates degree or higher. This puts Nevada in the bottom tier of education rankings in the nation and illustrates the necessity of improving those rankings.
The Collaborative gives institutions a chance to speak with one cohesive, and therefore stronger, voice. “Institutions of higher education often face the same challenges or difficulties that need to be addressed either through governmental agencies or through other means” said Dr. Renee Coffman, dean, College of Pharmacy, Roseman University of Health Services. “When we speak together with one voice, we have a much more powerful statement.”
“We wanted to bring together a consortium of people to speak specifically to what they’re experiencing,” said Kathy Gamboa, campus director, territory vice president, University of Phoenix. The collective knowledge of all the higher education institutions brings power to the voice of education in Nevada. This is truly a cohesive group of people who are coming together to raise the bar of education in Nevada.”
It’s also a chance for higher education institutions to take a collective look at what their students are struggling with and provide opportunities, finding jobs in Nevada and facilitating growth.
“The goal of the Education Collaborative is to network and support one another to provide increased awareness of all the educational opportunities available to residents in our community,” said Michele Anderson, M.Ed., regional director of admissions, Lesley University.
One important aspect of the Collaborative is the sharing of information, according to Gamboa. “It’s important for us to look at education from a community perspective because education is a community effort and something that [we] can be a part of. We take that approach when we look at it to see how we can be inclusive, be a partner with other institutions, and share best practices.”
Different institutions may face different issues, but they also share many. Those issues include funding, awareness and uncertainty in how student financial aid will be administered in the future.
Many post-secondary education institutions in the Valley are facing similar issues but more than that, they’re working for the same goals: to create a culture of education in Nevada.
Awareness is important. Understanding that Nevada has a plethora of educational opportunities for students is part of building a culture of education in Nevada.
“It’s vital to the success of our economy (improving education),” said Julie Williamson, director of academic support at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. “Through the collaborative, we’re trying to increase awareness of educational opportunities for people living in Southern Nevada.”
“One of our issues is lack of presence,” said Kevin Miller, campus director, Regis University, Las Vegas. “A group like [the Education Collaborative] would definitely get our name out there. I think that’s very important. We’ve been in the Vegas area for 12 years and we’re still a very well kept secret, unfortunately. Any time you can use all those players as a way to get everyone’s name out front helps us all.”
“As the population in the state grew rapidly it was necessary to move beyond just state supported [schools] and so a number of private universities came to Nevada, Touro University was one of them,” said Dr. Michael Harter, senior provost and CEO of Touro University. “I think the education infrastructure has profited from the private sector moving into Nevada. So many still think of higher education in terms of the [state] supported programs. There’s a whole lot more here than that.”
A Shared Vision
The Collaborative formed with a three-prong plan, every angle of which is tied into the very idea behind the name: collaboration.
The first of the directives is information-based – getting the information out to Nevada businesses, organizations, agencies, government and educators. various print, electronic and Android/smartphone apps will disseminate information about education in Southern Nevada.
The Collaborative will also partner with the State of Nevada for inclusion in all private higher education listings on the State website that represents the whole of the state’s educators.
The second directive is also information-based – retrieving statistics and education demographics on the economic impact of education – putting together numbers that show the economic contribution higher education makes to the state domestic product, as well as the number of graduate degree members of those institutions (staff, faculty, researchers) in our community.
This is a step in creating a culture of education in Nevada, which is defined as: the examples parents set for children with regard to school, providing a skilled workforce for businesses in the state and employers looking to move into the state, growing our economy and providing employment opportunities for residents.
Finally, the Collaborative is working on showcasing projects, looking at what education institutions in Southern Nevada are contributing through graduate level papers and research projects. These projects have the potential to impact future job creation.
Creating a Culture of Education in Southern Nevada
The economic downturn the country is still struggling to recover from affected every segment of the economy. Few industries managed to avoid a hard hit and post-secondary education was affected, with state funding decreased and uncertainty surrounding how financial aid for students will be administered.
“I think the most important thing for higher education right now is some stability, followed by growth in our funding,” said Dan Klaich, chancellor, Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE). “We’ve been going through four years of budget cuts just like the rest of the state (I’m not saying we’ve been singled out) and stability to help us plan for the future would be critical.”
Because right now the reality of education in Southern Nevada is that there’s a lot of room for improvement. Graduation and completion rates are unacceptably low, according to the chancellor. Too few students are graduating from high school, too few high school graduates are going on to college and too few college students are earning their degrees. According to a study by The National Center for Higher Education Managment Systems, for every 100 ninth graders, only 10 graduate from college within 150 percent of normal college in six years.
“We know we have to improve what we are doing to move more students along to success,” said Klaich. It’s been the focus of NSHE for the last two years and incentive for Nevada to join the national alliance of states, Complete College America, which is focused on increasing the number of students who complete college and earn a degree. “We’ve been looking at all our policies to determine how we can encourage that.”
“I believe that private and public sector institutions have a responsibility to collaborate with each other to identify best practices that can be implemented to improve both the national rankings of our school system as well as increasing our graduation rates,” said Lori L. Bryant, M.Ed., campus director, DeVry University, Henderson.
“I think it’s important for us to understand our rankings, what they say about us in general, what they say about our students,” said Gamboa. “We can’t really have an impact on those numbers unless we know what’s driving them. And that’s something we look at as part of our conversation on how we can create a culture of education in Nevada. That’s a very basic approach our team started with: how will we create and foster that culture of education in Nevada? Obviously our students help us get a better idea of what employers need and what we are providing, quality education that meets the needs of organizations and employers in our community. All the institutions in Nevada play a role in the future of our state and that’s why this cooperative is such a great place to start but we definitely need the concerted efforts from all higher education institutions throughout the state.”
“Statistically, the educational level of a four year bachelor’s degree is considerably less [here] than in the nation and master degrees are less than the nation as far as percentage per capita” said Kathy Cunningham, associate regional dean, Nevada, National University, one of the member institutions working with the Higher Education Collaborative.
“We have an interesting situation in Nevada in that we need a larger percentage of our population to have a college degree in order to keep up with the economic demands of our state than are currently graduating from high school,” said Shannon Beets, provost and executive vice president, Sierra Nevada College. “So we’re going to have to go back and offer opportunities for people who maybe have already had their first job, already left high school and didn’t decide immediately to go on and get their bachelor’s degree, to come back to education and change what they’re doing as a contributing member of our economy and our society.”
“This most recent depression has shown when you drill down on the data that it has fallen disproportionally heavily on individuals with limited education,” said Klaich. “So if you look at those without a high school degree versus a baccalaureate degree, the rate of unemployment is almost double. Not only have those persons in Nevada been disproportionally hit by this recession but because of lack of training it’s very difficult for them to find a new job.”
That translates into two fundamental principles, Klaich says – that education gives Nevada residents the tools they need to find the jobs that allow them security and dignity in their lives, and that a more educated populace will help lead Nevada to a more diversified economy that will hopefully put residents back to work and help create a buffer against future recessions.
Education & Economic Development
Nevada continues to experience one of the most challenged economies in the country. As business, political, education, and community leaders in Nevada develop a course of action that will determine, to a large degree, how quickly the state rebuilds its economy and quality of life, Nevada can learn a few lessons from other regions in the U.S. that have already experienced equally catastrophic economic crises and, as a result, have transformed themselves into innovative and globally competitive metropolitan areas.
“The cities with the most brain power will ultimately win the challenges of economic survival,” said Bob Cooper, economic development, redevelopment manager for the City of Henderson. “The ghost towns of the future will not be the ones we saw in the past, which were left behind due to the railroad or highways not passing through their areas. The fall of cities today will be those who lacked the appreciation of higher education, technology advancements and the globalization of international business.”
Take, for example, Southwest Pennsylvania and Southwest Texas.
In the 1980s, Southwest Pennsylvania’s steel industry, the largest employer in the region, collapsed. Roughly half of the region’s manufacturing jobs disappeared. In 1986, Southwest Texas experienced a dramatic oil price collapse almost overnight that created a stagnant economy and significant multi-billion dollar deficits for the Texas Legislature.
“Like Nevada’s economy today, which is highly dependent on gaming and construction, these two regions were dominated by a single industry – steel in Pittsburgh and oil and gas in Houston,” said Dr. Spencer Stewart, an associate vice president with Nevada State College. “Industrial manufacturing and production, in general terms, created regional demand for large numbers of unskilled workers. The economic collapse of steel and oil created one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. One-third of oil and gas related employment was lost during this period. Nevada’s ‘Great Recession’ bears striking similarities in duration and severity to Southwest Pennsylvania’s and Southwest Texas’ recessions 30 years ago,” Stewart added.
Confronted with declining revenues from the steel and oil industries, business and political leaders in both regions aggressively pursued economic diversification plans that were substantially leveraged by the research capabilities of their local universities.
For Nevada to emerge more economically resilient and diversified (in terms of gross state product), it must invest in and partner with entrepreneurial institutions of higher learning.
By investing in local public research universities, both regions attracted major technology-based firms and promoted the development of homegrown technologies and spin-off companies.
For example, in the late 80s, state government and the University of Texas at Austin, a “Top 10” public research university, convinced Microchips, Computer Corporation, and Sematech, large technology and innovations companies, to relocate in Austin. Over 20 additional computer chip companies have followed since then.
In Pittsburgh, the business community heightened its partnership with the University of Pittsburgh, one of the most active and respected research universities in the U.S., to improve technology commercialization. Over 50 companies in Pittsburgh have started as a result of commercializing technology.
While the steel and oil industry still continue to play a major part within the regional economies, high-tech industries have created a diverse market for high-wage, fast-growth fields.
“If we don’t have an educated workforce, we won’t attract the companies we need to grow,” Williamson adds.
As Nevada tries to restructure its economy, workforce development becomes important. Diversification is still the watchword, as is bringing new businesses and new industries to the state. AB449, the Economic Development bill, was recently signed into law, and allowed Governor Sandoval to create the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (formerly Nevada Commission on Economic Development). The office then commissioned a report by Brookings UNLV and SRI International titled Unify Regionalize Diversify.
Identifying some of Nevada’s strengths in business, the tax structure that makes our state so business-friendly comes first, and second, Nevada is the transportation hub of the western states, with world-class airports in our major metro areas.
Recognizing these strengths has led to identifying seven target industries in Nevada for growth, innovation and diversification, as well as 30 narrower target opportunities for growth.
The report specifically calls out higher education as a building block for the new Nevada economy.
“There are multiple pieces as to what workforce development needs to look like,” said Dale Erquiaga, Governor Sandoval’s senior advisor. “That includes Nevada System of Higher Education, which was called out specifically in the report, and also includes the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation (DETR), the Workforce Investment Board, because federal monies flow from the Workforce Investment Act, and we believe it should include private sector higher education as well.”
Higher education institutions in Nevada have worked with economic development authorities in the past. They’ve created well-tailored plans that included community colleges creating training programs directed at educating workforce in skills businesses coming into the state required. This creates a connection between business, education and economic development.
“I think that we’re seeing an industry shift in Nevada,” said Beets. “Tourism and the gambling industry are still important to us, but we’re seeing new markets come to Nevada, including things that we really hope for like green energy. As those new markets of green energy, technology and healthcare services come to the state, we need a population that’s educated to fill roles in those new markets, in industries.”
Collaboration makes it easier for workforce organizations to fill skilled positions when new companies locate in Nevada. Nevada Workforce Connections works with higher education partners to develop training, and is looking forward to doing so with targeted industries for economic development such as healthcare. In addition, Workforce Connections supplies trained workers when an industry, such as manufacturing, finds its workers are retiring or leaving the area.
“We support those kinds of efforts 100 percent,” said Cornelius Eason, director of regional statistics, Workforce Connections. “Education institutions can complement each other so if one has one offering and another one doesn’t, they can figure out how to work together for the betterment of the student.” This collaboration would also work for the betterment of the state.
One of the critical goals for higher education is aligning education with the goals of government and business in the state, though that’s not to say the goal of higher education is to turn out students to fit specific job roles, according to Chancellor Klaich. “I believe in broad-based liberal education. But we have to understand what the goals of the state are, what the workforce needs of the state are and have to align our institutions with those goals and help meet those goals.”
“This administration has not had a formal relationship with the education collaborative at this point but we view them as potential partners in this effort,” said Erquiaga. Speaking of the targeted industries, he continued, “Some of those sectors require advanced degrees, some require certificate programs in terms of post-secondary education beyond high school, so there’s plenty of room for the whole field of players in post-secondary education. This governor is a believer in parent choice in K-12 and in student choice in higher education as well, so we’re happy to have the private sector as well as public sector involved.”
Often it’s private nonprofit institutions that educate the non-traditional students, or working learners.
“As we face economic realities in our state, we’ve all recognized that education is a large part of that,” said Beets. “Not only are we talking about education for the traditional undergraduate market, meaning the new high school graduates who are coming to terms with what their futures will be, but also we know that we need to grow the percentage of our population that has bachelor’s degrees in order to keep up in a competitive economic market over the next couple of years.”
That means educating the non-traditional students who are already in the workforce, with full time jobs, families and maybe no more than a high school diploma. They’re very important to Nevada’s economic future, and part of the mission of the Higher Education Collaborative.
“As the Collaborative moves forward, hopefully it will have impact policy, impact decisions that are made not only in Nevada but in Washington DC. All that can do is strengthen higher education in the state, and higher education is really the lifeblood for all economic development,” said Coffman. “You need to have a trained workforce and higher education plays a huge role in that.”