University, state and business leaders discuss education master plan

RENO -- Academic and business leaders agreed Monday that Nevada's university system needs to grow and get better, but they quickly disagreed over whether the state's higher education should concentrate on "trade schools."

Chancellor Jane Nichols told a group of 35 business, government and higher-education leaders the demand for higher education will increase 60 percent by 2010 and that demand will come from a population that is much more diverse.

Nichols also said a study indicates student tuition will have to rise 40 percent in addition to adjustments for inflation. Others agreed students should pay a larger share of the tab.

She said the system would absorb part of the increase by improving its efficiency -- $8 million of the needed increase this fiscal year and $80 million over the next decade.

But she said the state will have to come up with more money as well -- a total of about $160 million over and above inflation in the next 10 years.

Nichols told the group they must help convince voters and the state's elected officials that the university system's needs are legitimate and worth funding.

She said a proposed system master plan for Nevada's universities and colleges seeks to provide all students the courses, degrees and training they will need to enter the 21st century workforce.

She said the goals are to enroll more Nevada high school graduates and to increase the percentage of them completing their degrees. She said the system must attract more non-white students and improve the education that all University of Nevada system students receive.

Business leaders at the round table discussion agreed the system must improve the quality as well as quantity of its educational offerings. But they said the goal should be to provide an education better tailored to the needs of businesses in the state.

"You're going to have to start delivering the product the general public needs," said Norm Dianda of Q&D; Construction.

Ray Bacon, executive director of the Nevada Manufacturers Association, was even more to the point. The system should focus on what businesses hiring those students need and not waste class time on other materials.

"Just because it happens to be the professor's favorite course, if we're not using the graduates that are coming out of that course, let it go," he said.

Several other business leaders at the table agreed that's what they need from Nevada graduates and Bacon added, "That's the only way you run a factory."

But that drew a reaction from others at the table, including UNR President John Lilly, who agreed that in business, engineering and other professional courses, campus officials need to talk more with the companies hiring those graduates.

"But I think I get a little nervous when it sounds too much like we're talking about trade schools," he said.

He was joined by Gov. Kenny Guinn's representative Mike Hillerby, who said there is an inherent value in higher education beyond the financial value of the degree.

"It's not just a work card," he said. "There's more value to it than that."

Regent Howard Rosenberg also objected the the trade school approach, saying "I can train anyone to do anything. There's a difference between training and an education."

Nichols agreed the system needs to review what classes it is offering, update them and eliminate some to free up professors for more pressing needs. She questioned whether the Nevada system needs to create trade schools and pointed out that all the system's community colleges are asking permission to offer four-year degrees in applied technology and said that might be one answer.

Both university and business leaders agreed that making improvements in both the quality and quantity of classes offered in the university system will take money. Nichols said a key part of the increase will have to come from students, who now pay among the nation's lowest rates for their education.


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