By William Trombley
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA
AFTER TRAILING most of the nation for years in higher education attendance and spending,
the State of Nevada has begun to change direction.
|Computer lab at the Cheyenne campus of the
Community College of Southern Nevada is open from early morning until after midnight,
to accommodate students with odd Las Vegas working hours.
Enrollment in the state’s two universities and four community colleges has increased
about 16 percent since 1994. State spending for higher education rose 30 percent
in the last two years, the largest percentage increase in the nation. Higher education’s
share of the state budget has jumped from 17 percent to almost 20 percent.
Although Nevada still ranks near the bottom among the 50 states in percentage
of the population with bachelor’s degrees, that number, too, has started to move
"Things are on the upswing," said Ray Rawson, who runs the dental hygiene
program at the Community College of Southern Nevada (CCSN) and also is assistant
majority leader of the state Senate.
Economic prosperity is the main reason for the improved fortunes of Nevada’s public
colleges and universities. The last few years have been lucrative for gambling and
tourism, which account for a major share of Nevada tax revenues. (The state has no
But some educators think there also is increased interest among Nevada citizens
in pursuing education beyond high school.
Las Vegas is so full of stories about young people who make so much tip money
parking cars or waiting on tables, and who don’t report much of that income to the
Internal Revenue Service, that earning a college degree seems a waste of time.
"That’s both true and it’s a mythology," said Richard Jarvis, chancellor
of the University and Community College System of Nevada. "It’s true that we
have a full-employment economy right now and kids don’t need a college degree to
get jobs. But there’s a growing realization that these are dead-end jobs and they’ll
need education and training to survive in the future."
Nevada’s college-going rate (the percentage of high school graduates who enroll
in college) of 38.7 percent was lowest in the nation in 1996, when the national average
was 58.5 percent. "We still have a huge marketing job to do," Jarvis said.
Richard Moore, the energetic entrepreneur who has revitalized the three-campus Community
College of Southern Nevada system since becoming president in 1994, said that "education
is the number one priority of this state. People believe it’s important and they’ll
pay for it, with increased taxes if they have to."
|“We have a huge marketing job to do,” says
Chancellor Richard Jarvis of the University and Community College System of Nevada,
referring to the state’s 38.7 percent college-going rate, lowest in the nation.
No they won’t, responded Senate Majority Leader William Raggio, a veteran Republican
politician and a strong supporter of higher education. "It’s a matter of our
revenues," he said. "If we have the money, we’ll spend as much as we can
on the colleges but the public is not in any mood for tax increases."
There are a few dark clouds on Nevada’s economic horizon. Hotel-casino profits
dropped almost 19 percent in the last fiscal year and hotel occupancy rates are down.
College officials who remember the sharp cuts in higher education spending that resulted
from the recession of the early 1990s are apprehensive that it could happen again.
But for now, the state has plenty of money and growth is in the wind.
Vigorous recruiting and a dazzling array of new programs have helped to increase
Community College of Southern Nevada enrollment by one-third—from 17,100 to 26,700
—in the last three years.
Enrollment also has increased sharply at the state’s three other community colleges—Truckee
Meadows, north of Reno; Western Nevada, in Carson City; and Great Basin College,
in remote Elko.
Growth has been slower at the two universities, in Reno and Las Vegas, partly
because administrators on both campuses believe that educational quality cannot be
maintained if enrollment increases too rapidly.
The 134-year-old University of Nevada campus in Reno prides itself on its relatively
small size—about 12,400 students this year. The slogan, "Building the best small
state university in America," appears on many campus mailing pieces.
An annual growth rate of two to three percent is "all we ought to be aiming
for," said Joseph N. Crowley, who has been president at UNR for 20 years. "That
offers us an opportunity to control for quality."
UNR does relatively little recruiting of undergraduates and is steadily increasing
the high school grade point average required for freshman admission to 3.0, although
the minimum set by the system’s Board of Regents is only 2.5.
UNR has joined two community colleges—Truckee Meadows and Western Nevada—in planning
a new campus at the southern end of Reno that will offer both two- and four-year
|President Carol Harter of the University of
Nevada, Las Vegas, plans to increase undergraduate enrollment slowly, while adding
new graduate and professional programs.
Great Basin, a two-year college in Elko, also hopes to offer bachelor’s degrees in
a few areas—probably elementary education, business and nursing—because of its isolated
location 290 miles east of the Reno campus and 240 miles west of the closest four-year
institution, the University of Utah.
Carol Harter, president of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) since 1994,
uses the phrase "planned growth" to describe her plans for that young institution,
which opened in 1957 and now has almost as many current students (20,000) as it has
UNLV enrollment increased steadily until the 1990s, when it flattened out for
several reasons, Harter said in an interview. There was stiffer competition from
the newly-energized, less expensive community college; there were long waiting lists
for courses that students needed to graduate; and a bitter feud between former UNLV
President Robert Maxson and basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian, which ended in the
departure of both men, soured many people on the university.
Harter and Provost Douglas Ferraro are trying to make the university more "student
oriented" by offering classes at odd hours, to accommodate the 24-hour Las Vegas
work day; by making sure students can get courses they need to graduate; and by improving
both the student advising and financial aid systems.
At the same time, UNLV plans to expand its graduate and professional programs, which
now account for about 25 percent of total enrollment. A law school, first in the
state, will open next fall and there are discussions about a dental school, a pharmacy
school and other programs in allied health sciences.
|High school students attend classes at a Community
College of Southern Nevada campus, enabling them to earn college credit while in
high school and freeing up space in overcrowded high schools.
A new library, the first campus building that will be larger than the basketball
arena, is scheduled to open in two years.
All of these efforts produced an enrollment increase of five percent last fall,
which is exactly the kind of "planned growth" that President Harter has
A more hectic pace has been set at the Community College of Southern Nevada since
Richard Moore arrived as president in October 1994.
Moore said he took the Nevada job, after 20 years as president of Santa Monica
College in California, because "it was a chance to jump-start a college."
And he has done that.
Enrollment on the college’s three campuses has increased by one-third. The faculty
has almost doubled in size. This year alone, more than 100 new full-time faculty
members were hired. The operating budget has doubled to $52 million in five years.
Declaring that CCSN no longer would be the "best kept secret" in Las
Vegas, Moore painted buildings on one campus in vivid colors and ran neon lighting
around buildings on another.
He increased the size of the recruiting staff, mailed handsome (and expensive) color
brochures to prospective students, ran ads on local radio and placed others at bus
stops. "We got the word out," he said.
New programs have proliferated, several in collaboration with the rapidly growing
Clark County school district.
Moore calls Brian Cram, Clark County superintendent of schools, "my dancing
partner," while Cram refers to the community college president as "our
designated wild man," adding that "one of my jobs is to explain Richard
to the community."
High school students now take classes at all three community college campuses—300
this year, 475 next year. For part of the day, they are in English, social studies
and mathematics classes taught by high school teachers. For the rest of the day,
they take community college courses, usually two or three.
This has two advantages—it enables students to earn about one year’s college credit
while still in high school and it also frees up hundreds of seats in overcrowded
Clark County high schools.
In another Cram-Moore collaboration, high school and community college students
will share a new campus in nearby Henderson. High school students will use the campus
in the morning and early afternoon, leaving it available for community college students
the rest of the day.
High school and community college students also will share three new "high
tech centers," to be located on high school campuses—two in Las Vegas and one
in Carson City, the state capital. The centers will contain classrooms, computer
labs and administrative offices. They will cost about $5 million apiece, far less
than a new high school.
This idea "has really caught the attention of legislators," said system
Chancellor Richard Jarvis. "Now every legislator wants one in his district."
"And they’re right," Richard Moore said. "Every district in the state
should have one. Whose child is it who is not going to get the best education available?"
|Clark County Superintendent of Schools Brian
Cram has worked closely with the Community College of Southern Nevada, sharing facilities
to save money and provide more classroom space.
Moore said he might want to offer four-year degrees at CCSN, especially in education.
The Clark County school system hired about 1,800 new teachers this year, only 350
to 400 of whom came from either the Reno or Las Vegas campuses of the University
"Somehow the state has to find a way to educate more teachers," Moore said.
"Maybe we (CCSN) should have our own teacher training institution."
Moore has persuaded the Boys and Girls Club of Las Vegas to provide volunteer
child care so that single mothers can attend community college classes. This year
the volunteers are caring for more than 600 children.
In an attempt to reduce the troublesome Clark County high school dropout rate,
Moore agreed to pay 60 "at risk" high school students $6 an hour for two
hours a day to learn academic and job skills under the watchful eyes of CCSN mentors.
Moore said 85 percent of these students have graduated from high school, and many
have gone on to college.
But the program has been criticized by the major local newspaper, the Review-Journal,
and by others in a community that never has been enthusiastic about welfare.
"If we can turn around 85 percent of the worst there is in Nevada, then we
can make a big dent in the dropout problem," Moore said in defense of the program.
But he conceded that, "this goes against the ‘make it on your own’ Nevada philosophy."
The Review-Journal and other critics also lambasted Moore’s vigorous recruitment
of international students, a policy he brought from Santa Monica College. Moore pointed
out that foreign students, paying a stiff non-resident fee of $1,759 per semester,
in addition to tuition, have produced profits for the college of more than $500,000
|Nevada by the Numbers
Number of public institutions: six (two universities, four community colleges)
Total enrollment (Fall 1997): 74,655
Number of instructional faculty (1996–97): 1,949
Percentage of high school graduates who go on to college: 38.7 percent (the national
average was 58.5 percent in 1996)
Percentage of population (25 and over) with bachelor’s degree or more: 19 percent
(eighth lowest in U.S. in 1996)
Undergraduate tuition (1997–98):
$66.50 per credit at the university campuses
$39.50 per credit at the community colleges
State appropriations for public higher education (1997–98): $291.7 million, a 22
percent increase over 1996–97 (The two-year increase of 30 percent was the highest
in the nation)
But critics argued that the state’s college-going rate is so low that the money
should be spent to recruit Nevadans, not students from other countries.
For the most part, Moore has been well received, on campus and in the community.
"He’s the best thing that ever happened to us," said Ray Rawson, the
powerful state senator and Community College of Southern Nevada faculty member. "The
previous administration took the attitude that ‘we don’t want to set any precedents;
we don’t want to get in trouble,’ but Richard is a possibility thinker. If you’ve
got an idea, he’ll say, ‘Let’s try it.’"
Chancellor Jarvis said, "Richard has captured the public arena in this town…He
has given the community college credibility."
But Moore is not beloved by all.
Some CCSN faculty members are uncomfortable with the rapid growth and constant
"It’s a mixed blessing," said Faculty Senate Chair Royse Smith, a political
science instructor. "Growth makes a lot of things possible but it also means
a loss of collegiality. Overall, though, I would say most faculty members are encouraged
by what’s happening."
Administrators at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, view Moore’s frenzied activities
with both awe and distaste.
"He’s found the right city," said one who did not want to be identified.
"He can do almost anything he wants and they love it. But he’s not ethical and
he’s not concerned about quality. He will bring in anybody to make the place grow,
without concern for the impact on quality."
But supporters say UNLV officials are simply jealous because they have lost so
many potential students to the community college and because of the public attention
Moore has received.
System officials worry that a continued growth rate of 12 to 15 percent a year at
CCSN could mean there would not be enough money for other campuses.
"We have to establish some boundaries," said Tom Anderes, vice chancellor
for finance and administration. According to Anderes, CCSN can accommodate ten percent
annual growth, "but beyond that the rest of the system is going to suffer."
Moore replied, "I’m aware that some people are nervous about our rate of growth.
I live with that all the time. But the state is a lot stronger because this college
is starting to be responsive to the people of this region."
|Enrollment has jumped one-third at the Community
College of Southern Nevada since Richard Moore became president in 1994.
Some members of the system’s Board of Regents also worry about Moore’s expansionist
ideas and his way of doing business.
"I have mixed feelings about Richard," said Shelley Berkley, a regent
from Las Vegas and a Democratic candidate for Congress. "I love his energy,
and many of the programs he has started are wonderful, but he doesn’t always follow
through and he doesn’t always deliver on what he promises.
"Nobody can say his college is the best-kept secret in Las Vegas anymore,"
she added, "but the question is, can he make sure all these wonderful programs
actually work? It could be that Richard was the perfect choice for this phase of
the college but we might need someone else for the next phase."
But for now, Richard Moore and the Community College of Southern Nevada are riding
high. So is public higher education in Nevada, once disparaged by higher education
analyst Tom Mortenson as "the only state that knows how to make money without
educating its citizens."