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Higher Education Blooms in Nevada
Improved fortunes for state's public colleges and universities

By William Trombley
Senior Editor


LAS VEGAS, NEVADA
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.
AFTER TRAILING most of the nation for years in higher education attendance and spending, the State of Nevada has begun to change direction.

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 up.

"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 income tax.)

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.

“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.
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."

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.

President Carol Harter of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, plans to increase undergraduate enrollment slowly, while adding new graduate and professional programs.
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 degrees.
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 alumni (33,000).

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.

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.
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.

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 in mind.

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."

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.
"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?"

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 of Nevada.

"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."

Related information
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)
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 so far.

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 change.

"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."

Enrollment has jumped one-third at the Community College of Southern Nevada since Richard Moore became president in 1994.
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."

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."

Photos by Gary Zee for CrossTalk

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