Ex-presidents urge local say in community colleges

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Three former community college presidents teamed up Tuesday urging lawmakers to give local officials a say in how Nevada’s community colleges are run.

Carole Lucey, formerly head of Western Nevada College, John Gwaltney, formerly Truckee Meadows Community College and Tony Calabro, formerly of the Western Nevada College — each with more than a decade at the helm of their respective colleges — spoke before the interim study committee examining how to properly fund and manage Nevada’s community college system.

“The Nevada model doesn’t work,” said Lucey. “It hasn’t for 40-50 years now.”

She said that isn’t a criticism of the people running the system but of the system itself because, as long as the colleges are solely under Board of Regents control, the universities will get the lion’s share of attention.

“The universities’ priorities take precedence,” she said.

Lucey and the others urged lawmakers to create local advisory boards appointed by, for example, the lawmakers representing the area where each college is located.

Gwaltney agreed saying as long as the colleges are under the regents, “it’s hard to define what their role is.” On one hand, they are preparing students to move to the universities and, on the other, serving business and others in their communities with workforce training.

He said the plan presented to lawmakers by the regents and Chancellor Dan Klaich — to create a vice-chancellor in charge of the community college system — has been tried and failed twice in the past.

“We’re trying to ride a bicycle with square wheels,” Gwaltney said. “Without a structural change, it isn’t really going to change in the long run.”

That structural change, he said, is to create local advisory boards that become each college’s ambassador to the community and its advocate.

And those boards would have input on all issues involving the colleges from curriculum to budgets and policies.

Lucey said when she retired last year the new system funding formula was an example of the university-centric approach to the system, protecting the University of Nevada, Reno and UNLV but letting the small community colleges suffer disproportionate funding cuts.

She said the two primary objections to local governance are whether community college credits would transfer seamlessly to the universities and whether locals would be responsible for helping to fund the small campuses.

The credit transfer issue, she said, is a simple fix that has been done across the nation.

She said local governments in Nevada can’t afford to help pay operating costs but it can be set up so lawmakers appoint the boards and the state retains primary responsibility for funding the schools.

“But it gives you local governance,” she said.

They were joined by Ray Bacon of the Nevada Manufacturers Association, who said the local advisory boards should be composed of businessmen who rely on the schools for trained workers and students who are recent graduates of community college programs.

Bacon said current students don’t have the answers needed but that recent graduates “know this is what I learned and this is what I didn’t learn when I got to my profession.”

He said they also know which parts of their education aren’t helping them in their jobs.

He said faculty shouldn’t be on the boards because ”faculty would become protectionist.”

The study committee headed by Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, D-Las Vegas, voted to give Klaich and the regents one more chance, authorizing them to hire a vice-chancellor to oversee and fix the community college system. But they directed the system report on what has been accomplished before the start of the 2015 Legislature.

Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick made it clear she expects results and if it doesn’t get fixed, lawmakers would make some serious changes.

“I’m going to be submitting some bills if I don’t see some changes,” Kirkpatrick said.


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