ELKO – Higher education in the state is seeing changes – in funding, leadership, and the system’s accountability to students.
Nevada System of Higher Education is “halfway through implementing a system within a system,” said Chancellor John White. NSHE has institutional advisory councils for the community colleges to address their issues. These IACs make recommendations concerning the individual school’s needs. The Regents also are searching for a vice chancellor for the community colleges.
NSHE Chairman Rick Trachok said part of the changes include how the schools are funded. When the funding formula changed from enrollment based to graduation rates, community colleges had a reduction in money from the state. The bridge funding expired in 2016. Since then the Regents increased funding for career and technical education courses to help with workforce development.
The CTE increase will “slightly exceed” what the “bridge” funding provided, White said.
Trachok said the adjustment to the formula for CTE was a focus on the “core mission of the community colleges, which is workforce development.” The Regents wanted to recognize the additional expense incurred by the colleges that have specialized career training.
“It’s much more expensive to do advanced welding than it is English, but the compensation from the state was identical,” Trachok said. “We wanted to make sure that we were able to adjust for that, which doubled the type of funding for those types of courses.”
Regent Cathy McAdoo, who represents the district GBC is in, believes the funding formula will benefit workforce placement programs.
“I’m extremely pleased for that funding source,” said McAdoo. “I believe across Nevada, we’ve got to continually teach for workforce development, and I see that it is essential.”
Higher education also has changed how it looks at student success and the institution’s accountability to those who take classes, White said.
“It’s changing us from our students come to us and we grace them with knowledge if they’re willing to embrace it, into we have an obligation to ensure that our students can be successful,” he said. “So how you do that without reducing standards while keeping university education and college education rigorous is the challenge that we have, and we shouldn’t be very surprised that the folks who write the checks for us are now paying closer attention to it.”
Part of that extra attention came in the form of Assembly Bill 331, a 272-page bill introduced by Republican Ira Hansen. If approved, the bill would remove community colleges from the control of NSHE and set up a Nevada System of Community Colleges.
Trachok said a separate system wouldn’t help students in the state. He and White said having two systems in the state would probably increase costs and could hurt universities and community colleges.
McAdoo agreed with White and Trachok regarding passage of AB 311, believing that a separation of systems may jeopardize Great Basin College’s baccalaureate programs.
“It isn’t good for the system and for the community colleges,” said McAdoo who also questioned where GBC, would be categorized in a dual system.
She also believed that Gov. Brian Sandoval created a budget that adequately finances the schools within the NSHE system.
“I believe that Gov. Sandoval has done the best job he could for funding sources for all institutions to do their job efficiently and effectively,” McAdoo said.
Having the community colleges and universities under the same system has enabled the schools to save money. Trachok said one example of savings was the consolidation of police forces at the University of Nevada, Reno, Truckee Meadows Community College and Desert Research Institute. The consolidation saved $587,000 a year and the money was used to pay for additional instructors at TMCC.
“Look at what we’ve done and I think everybody can be satisfied that we’re on the right track,” Trachok said.
Some of the added attention came after the Las Vegas Review-Journal revealed system officials attempted to mislead legislators on the 2012 college funding formula. Regents looked at funding alternatives.
“We’re doing so in a context where my predecessor’s retirement, I think, came in less than ideal circumstances for the system and it’s generated what we see now in the most recent kind of groups of bills, a lot of skepticism about the system, a lot of skepticism about the individual campuses and how well they’re doing,” White said. “These are not different from national trends. As funding in states has gotten more tight, Legislators and others have asked increasingly penetrating questions about our campuses, how they’re operating and the sort. In some respects this transition year has really focused the Legislature on a lot of detailed questions about how we’re operating. I think in the long term, that level of engagement is probably not especially productive, but at least for a session or two is probably not as horrible a thing as we may feel it is when we first read the bills.”
Another change coming soon to Great Basin is a new president – Mark Curtis announced in October that he would retire in June. NSHE is in the process of searching for his replacement. White said they need to get candidates on campus before the semester ends and hope to have a designee by early May.
Trachok said he had three goals when he took over as chairman two years ago.
“The first one was to focus on administrative expenses in the system and at each of the institutions and to achieve savings where we could and shift those savings to the classroom,” he said. “The second thing was to adjust the formula to recognize the workforce development component so that we were making the investments we needed to in the community college, and the third thing was on increasing the focus and investment on the research component at the university. I think all of those have been achieved.”
“It’s changing us from our students come to us and we grace them with knowledge if they’re willing to embrace it, into we have an obligation to ensure that our students can be successful.” — Chancellor John White