ELKO — Local Nevada System of Higher Education Regent Kevin Melcher is opposed to college closures or mergers, which he said could jeopardize higher education in rural areas.
“Closing campuses is not the answer,” he told the Free Press Monday. “I’m also not in favor of mergers.”
Melcher said he thinks there could be opportunities to restructure the higher education system to make it more efficient, though, and he wants to put together a restructuring plan in the future.
Although regents voted 8-5 during a March 11 meeting in Carson City to table all college and university closure or merger options, the discussion is now back on the table.
Direction came last week from legislators on a subcommittee after college presidents presented cuts that did not add up to the $162 million worth of reductions in Gov. Brian Sandoval’s proposed budget.
Sen. Steven Horsford asked Chancellor Dan Klaich to prepare a full impact report by April 5, including scenarios with and without closures and mergers.
Regents had a heated debate March 11 whether to keep discussing the cuts, according to an Associated Press report. Regents looked at several proposals, such as merging the three northern Nevada community colleges, including Great Basin College, into one institution.
Melcher said closing or consolidating colleges would jeopardize the delivery of higher education in rural Nevada, especially since GBC has many branch and satellite campuses.
He also said decades of investments have been made into campuses around the state by private donors and foundations.
“If campuses close, it would take decades of hard work and resources and waste them,” Melcher said.
GBC President Carl Diekhans told Elko County Commissioners earlier this month that he’s also opposed to the idea of merging colleges in order to save money and it “would be the closure of higher education in rural Nevada.”
Melcher was elected regent in November for the District 8 seat, which includes Churchill, Elko, Esmeralda, Eureka, Humboldt, Lander, Lincoln, Mineral, Nye, Pershing and White Pine counties.
The 13-member board governs Nevada’s community colleges and universities.
During their meeting earlier this month, regents also heard from college and university presidents about each school’s budget reduction proposal.
GBC could face a $2.6 million funding shortfall during fiscal year 2011 and an additional $2.1 million cut during the 2012 fiscal year.
In response to the college’s financial situation, a newly formed committee with representatives around the community will look at GBC’s operations and finances.
The committee meets for the first time on Thursday. The agenda includes naming the committee, developing a mission statement and establishing goals.
“The strongest thing the committee could do is develop advocacy from rural Nevada for higher education,” Melcher said.
Elko County Commissioners voted unanimously earlier this month to appoint Commissioners Glen Guttry and Demar Dahl to serve on the committee.
Former Assemblyman John Carpenter proposed the committee in order to take a closer look at GBC’s operations, budget cuts and ways the community could help.
“I admire people for stepping forward and for their involvement in saving and strengthening higher education,” Melcher said about the committee.
Although he was asked to sit on the GBC financial review committee, Melcher said he won’t because it would be a conflict of interest with his role as a regent.
He said representatives from Great Basin College should be part of the committee to provide direction on what can and can’t be done, as well as coordinating internal decisions at the college with the committee’s work.
“It’s critical that representatives from the college be involved in the process,” he said.
Melcher said if the committee is going to work to raise money, it should be donated to the college through the Great Basin College Foundation.
“It’s the most secure way to support the college,” he said.
Also, Melcher said since GBC’s service area spans several counties, the committee should invite representatives from other counties to participate.
The next NSHE Board of Regents meeting is scheduled for April 8. More information about the state’s higher education system can be found online at http://system.nevada.edu.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.