Jill Derby: Nevada’s community colleges

As one who spent 18 years on the Nevada Board of Regents, three terms as Board Chair and in the 1990s, chaired a Board Task Force reviewing the status and issues of Nevada’s community colleges, I have been distressed to witness both the budgetary formula that has badly hurt our community colleges in comparison to our two universities, and the Regents’ latest proposals regarding the governance of the colleges that will only further diminish their standing in Nevada’s System of Higher Education.

Let’s be clear. Nevada’s community colleges educate half of Nevada’s college students. Let’s be even clearer. These students are often less economically advantaged than those who can afford the higher costs of a university education. Many work full time in order to pay their tuition. Clearest of all, the growing inequality gap in the U.S. is the most compelling issue of our time and one that’s going to frequent the headlines in the coming national election. Opportunity to move into the middle class is closely linked to a college education. Given those facts, that Nevada’s Board of Regents chooses to further diminish support for the community colleges, is deplorable.

The new funding formula the board has adopted clearly favors the universities over the community colleges. I understand that state funds are limited, and speak comparatively. As important as it was to re-balance the geographical distribution of higher education funding to address the south’s long-protested lesser share, doing it on the backs of Nevada’s community colleges has hurt those students who have less available options, and are more economically challenged. The list of programs having to be cut at the colleges, and the students who suffer as a result, is painful to watch.

Hiring a vice chancellor for community colleges is something that has been tried before, once during my tenure, at my recommendation, and was a complete failure. All it did and does is remove community college business from the desk of the chancellor who’s the CEO of the system, to a place of less influence and authority. Relegating the critical programs and concerns of the community colleges to both a sub-unit of the board and to a vice chancellor is clear evidence of the secondary status the Nevada’s Board of Regents attributes to Nevada’s community colleges. The impacts these actions would have on student lives and prospects, is deeply distressing. Most members of the Board of Regents are university graduates. I hope that doesn’t limit their understanding and appreciation of the outstanding job our community colleges do in opening lanes of opportunity to students who would not otherwise have them. This is our Nevada’s and America’s biggest challenge.

Jill Derby is a former chair of Nevada Board Regents.


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