Chet Burton commentary: Two college systems is not the answer

Beginning with the official end of the so-called “Great Recession,” the Nevada System of Higher Education and its eight institutions have experienced significant funding cuts totaling roughly $200 million. Under the guidance of the Board of Regents and the Chancellor, the state’s public colleges and universities made the cuts necessary to live within this new reality while maintaining important educational opportunities for Nevadans. The nationwide recession hit the state particularly hard given its reliance on tourism and gaming. As such, revenues were slow to rebound. There also was a long-standing funding formula that needed revision. The inequities of the old formula were exacerbated by the state’s continuing slow recovery, and a new and fair way to distribute funds to Nevada colleges and universities was researched, developed and passed by the 2013 Legislature.

The recession and new funding formula required Nevada’s four community colleges to become much more efficient while each sought to become more effective. Some in the public and a few elected officials believed a separate system of governance for the community colleges would help and a board devoted only to the oversight of community colleges would somehow produce more money for the state’s two-year institutions. The simple truth is a second system of higher education will not only produce no new money, it will cost the state hundreds of thousands of dollars that could be better spent on our core business, educating students.

Senate Bill 391 led to an interim study committee concerning community colleges. That committee made several important recommendations:

1. To have local Institutional Advisory Councils formed at each community college to give direct input to the Board of Regents

2. To have a standing community college committee of the Board of Regents formed

3. To have the Silver State Opportunity Grant funded to provide additional financial aid to those attending community colleges full time

4. To establish a STEM Challenge grant fund to help the community colleges provide additional educational opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math.

5. To have a rapid response fund established, giving community colleges the ability to quickly stand up needed programming for business and industry.

The committee didn’t find any tangible advantage to removing the state’s four community colleges from the governing oversight of the Board of Regents. We, the four community college presidents, agree removing our students and future students from the Nevada System of Higher Education may jeopardize their access to educational opportunities. Again, some are conflating two distinctly different issues, financial resources and governance. A separate system of governance for the community colleges simply does nothing to advance higher education in Nevada.

The above was written by Chester Burton, president of Western Nevada College, Dr. Michael D. Richards, president of College of Southern Nevada, Dr. Mark A. Curtis, president of Great Basin College, Dr. J. Kyle Dalpe, president of Truckee Meadows Community College.


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