Ex-presidents say Nevada community colleges need freedom

Former community college presidents testified this week those campuses need their freedom from a system of higher education that focuses on the two universities, not the needs of the community-based campuses.

Former Western Nevada College President Carol Lucey told the Assembly Education Committee when the recession hit and agencies including the university system were told to cut back, “community colleges were badly served by the process.” She said general fund cutbacks to the four community colleges were nearly 30 percent and the new funding formula created ignored their needs, shifting even more funding to the universities.

That came even as those campuses were being told it’s their responsibility to train the high-tech workforce needed by Tesla and other such companies.

Former Truckee Meadows Community College President John Gwaltney said one example of how community colleges are treated in the NSHE system came after a family donated what amounts to $15 million worth of land to TMCC while he was president.

“I called the chancellor and said congratulate me because I’ve just been given the biggest gift I’ve ever seen,” he told the committee. “He said you have to give it back. He said it has to be given back so it can be given to UNR.”

Gwaltney said when he said he wasn’t sure he wanted to do that, he was told to either do it or “pack” – leave the president’s position.

AB331 by Ira Hansen, R-Sparks, would create a separate system to manage the state’s four community colleges complete with its own governor-appointed board and local boards at each institution. Hansen said it would also create an Articulation and Transfer Board to coordinate and ease the process of transferring community college students and their credits to the universities as well as accelerate high school students’ ability to transfer to community colleges.

Lucey and Gwaltney said that has been a problem the university system has failed to fix for decades, resulting in too many students being forced by UNR and UNLV to pay for and retake a class at those institutions they already took at community college.

“In my time in Nevada I have never seen transfer and articulation handled properly in this system,” said Lucey.

She was joined by Ray Bacon of the Nevada Manufacturers Association who said when he worked at Bently Nevada, transferring credits up to the universities “was a point of frustration for employers.”

Asked how this would impact the money available to community colleges, Lucey said if the schools have local governance, “you will find you gain more support from the community.” She said that buy-in will help generate more support and funding.

“I think you will find amazing employer support,” Bacon told the committee. “The community will take ownership because I think they will have some control.”

Creating a separate community college system, according to Gwaltney and Lucey, would allow those institutions to come to the table at the Legislature and argue for their needs and their own budget.

Hansen said as part of the university system, the community colleges, “never get to talk about their budgets.” They only testify in support of the system budget approved by the Board of Regents.

“If they had their own independent boards, they would have the opportunity to come before us and make their case,” he said.

He said that while all four current community college presidents testified against the plan, he believes they have no choice because they serve at the will of the Board of Regents. Hansen pointed to Gwaltney’s testimony about giving the gift of land in south Reno to UNR or losing his job.

“What kind of nonsense is that?”

Hansen said no one from the system itself has contacted him to discuss the bill.

“I‘m a little mystified why none of them showed up to testify against it,” he said.

He invited anyone from the system to call him but said four days after issuing that invitation, still no one from the Nevada System of Higher Education had contacted him about AB331.

Education Chairman Assemblyman Tyrone Thompson, D-North Las Vegas, was unavailable for comment on Thursday. He has not yet scheduled the bill for a work session and possible committee vote.

If his committee does recommend the bill, it will still have to be vetted for fiscal impact by the Ways and Means Committee.


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