The growing number of four-year baccalaureate programs at Nevada's community colleges raised questions in budget hearings Friday.
Saying Community College of Southern Nevada and Western Nevada Community College have now joined Great Basin College in offering four-year degrees, Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, said those schools seem to be trying to change their mission.
What focused the committee on the issue was the decision by the Board of Regents last week to let CCSN and WNCC remove the word "Community" from their names.
"We're very proud of the community college system," he said.
But he said the existing four-year programs and plans to offer more baccalaureate degrees is a disturbing trend.
"Pretty soon are we going to have seven universities in the state of Nevada?"
Executive Vice chancellor Dan Klaich said regents too were concerned the colleges were moving away from the vocational and community-based courses they have always offered but he said that isn't the goal. He pointed out that Regent Steve Sisolak, when he made the motion to approve the name changes last week, specifically included that the colleges were not to change their mission in the community.
WNCC President Carol Lucey said at the regents meeting that college has no intention of reducing or cutting those courses when its name changes to Western Nevada College on July 1.
Vice Chancellor Jane Nichols told the joint Ways and Means/Senate Finance subcommittee the name change was requested by the students who see the word "community" on their diplomas as having negative connotations.
She said one reason for the offerings is that it is less expensive to provide those programs, such as nursing degrees, at a community college. She said the four-year programs are only approved when there is "a need that is not being met."
She said WNCC's construction management program is a good example. She said UNR had a program "for years and it limped along." She said it wasn't seen as appropriate at the university and that the construction industry, which needs those experts, requested it be moved to WNCC.
The issue of the medical school decision to pay malpractice "tail" coverage for newly hired doctors was also raised at Friday's hearings. Lawmakers charged during Interim Finance Committee meeting Wednesday that the school violated budget rules by making those payments in fiscal 2006.
Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, told school officials Wednesday the state wants that money back before it considers whether to fund tail coverage in the future.
She told Medical School Dean John McDonald she still has questions about that and wants more information before the budget is completed.
Tail coverage is for malpractice claims that arise from the period before the doctor joined the medical school but which are filed after the doctor joins the school.
"Presumably, you've already checked them out before offering them a position," she said.
McDonald said each potential hire is thoroughly checked for any malpractice lawsuits before being offered a position.
Ways and Means Chairman Morse Arberry, D-Las Vegas, asked what would happen if a doctor signed on with the school, had his malpractice coverage for the period before his hiring paid, then quit.
McDonald said they thought about that as well, and included a penalty clause.
"They'd have to pay the tail back," he said.
The committee will continue its review of university system budgets next month.
• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 687-8750.