“Bridge funding” for Western Nevada College continues to be the main concern for both administrators and members of Fallon’s Restore Our College Campus Committee when they recently received an update on the campus.
The 90-minute meeting covered both the financial outlook for the future and plans to expand programs to meet the employment desires of firms moving into western Nevada.
WNC President Chet Burton said a legislative committee hearing on higher education funding listened to concerns regarding the cut of bridge funding for both WNC and Great Basin College in Elko. The Board of Regents and lawmakers moved two years ago to a new formula for state funding to the university system based on weighted per credit hours taken by students. The new system was strongly pushed by Southern Nevada campus officials and lawmakers who argued they had been shortchanged by the old formula.
Burton said the “bridge funding” to smooth the transition was included in the Board of Regents’ proposed budget but eliminated by the governor’s office. He also reiterated the top-funding enhancement for the biennium that includes a tuition increase of 5 percent as the top priority followed by “bride funding.”
“We received a lot of support from the committee,” Burton said. “I didn’t feel any strong pushback at the hearing or from the subsequent questions.”
After a recommendation from the Nevada System of Higher Educations Board of Regents to include “bridge funding,” which amounts to $3 million to GBC and $1.95 million to WNC, Gov. Brian Sandoval cut that amount from his education budget, a decision that dismayed ROCCC.
Several members including a retired WNC dean questioned the governor’s emphasis on untested programs in his K-12 budget. Bus Scharmann, now a county commissioner, questions the governor’s intent of “throwing money at new programs.” Others questioned the need for new funding for K-12, keeping the status quo at the four-year institutions but short-changing WNC and GBC.
Scharmann said residents in the WNC service area must email their legislators and tell them that restoring bridge funding for the two colleges is important.
Burton said WNC is not looking at a handout with “bridge funding” but looking at maintaining programs.
“Even with ‘bridge funding,’ we may be looking at a $1 million cut,” Burton said. “We have a compelling case because with out ‘bridge funding,’ we’ll fall off a cliff.”
Discussion among committee members expressed frustration, saying the state seems to have abandoned technical training although students received the majority of advanced instruction at the community colleges.
“This is a good location for training,” Burton said of the Fallon campus.
Burton said the colleges are examining workforce development and how they can serve new companies such as Tesla.
“We’re working with Tesla to see what their needs are,” Burton pointed out.
Scharmann, who spent more than 30 years in the university system, said higher education in Nevada presents geographical challenges.
“Not all programs will be offered everywhere,” he said. “We may get students from Washoe County to come to Carson City for educational training.”
Burton said WNC’s overall enrollment is up 3 percent for the spring semester, but Fallon is up 1 percent partly due to the Jump Start program that allows high school students to take university-level courses at WNC.
“Churchill has the highest number of Jump Star students, and Oasis Academy has offered to pay the tuition, books and computers,” Burton said, adding Churchill County School District stated it would also pay for its Jump Start students.
Burton strongly emphasized to ROCCC that the lack of “bridge funding” had little to do with the recent announcement to eliminate the softball and baseball programs after the 2016 season. He said other programs are also finding their bottom lines are not as robust as they once were.
The Fallon ROCCC members would like the new regent, Robert Davidson, to take an active role with WNC, which is the only state college in his district. Sandoval appointed Davidson to replace Ron Knecht, who was elected controller in November 2014.
“I hope the new regent understands our unique challenges,” Scharmann said.
Clifford expressed his dismay that the governor did not actively ask for input from the college, its advisory board or other committees such as ROCCC.
Sherry Black, director of the WNC Fallon campus, said she was pleased a career fair to teach students how to prepare and interview for jobs was a success. Approximately 127 students attended the one-day event, and Black said additional students who wanted to attend the fair at the last minute were turned away.
Black said a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) class began Monday with a full enrollment, and the college will receive three new instructors for the next school year. One position, though, will be a history instructor replacing the retiring Doris Dwyer. Black said WNC would also receive a full-time English instructor.
As WNC slowly expands, Burton said plans are underway to offer community college classes and an associate degree at Naval Air Station Fallon. He said WNC has been working on a contract with the Navy. Currently, NAS Fallon has one university offering graduate degrees and another offering a bachelor’s degree.
Planned improvements to the WNC campus, said Black, will include sliding doors to the main entrance of the administrative building, and during summer construction, the reception area will be more student friendly.