Restoring dollars lost from the 12% budget reductions made for fiscal years 2022 and 2023 is among Western Nevada College interim President Kyle Dalpe’s top concerns when he thinks about what’s needed most out of this year’s legislative session.
The restoration would represent an investment into positions and the people who help make WNC the community college he continually reminds constituents that it is with its course offerings and opportunities.
Dalpe, who is approaching his anniversary as the institution’s interim president, has had a clear vision how to help his staff and students as changes have helped to reshape the college’s offerings within a few years. He’s also careful not to undercut the pandemic’s impacts since 2020 but says WNC has come out of it better than it went into it.
“The legislative agenda, to me, is cut and dry,” Dalpe said. “The state, the good news is, has more money than it’s ever had. The bad news is every agency knows that and puts in their requests and exceeds that amount.”
Dalpe says the college’s budget, as always, though, remains top of mind, when the Nevada System of Higher of Education (NSHE) made across-the-board reductions as universities and colleges were growing. WNC’s $1.8 million in cuts was in staffing positions and $500,000 was in operations, Dalpe said, and the challenge now, with $1.3 million restored through American Rescue Plan Act spending, will be to fill those jobs again.
Operations brings different difficulties of its own. WNC has been able to leverage its funds since fall 2019 to build greater remote access for students wanting to take online courses using digital technology, Dalpe said, but that ended up exceeding expectations for the tech’s original use.
“We never would have used it for a pandemic,” he said. “We were thinking more for snowstorms, transportation and disabled populations.”
But he also noted some of the equipment that had been purchased to help improve or replace television monitors or LCD projectors in classrooms to cut the noise current machines create nearly 18 months ago is just now getting installed in time for the spring semester that began Monday.
“We’re making classrooms more user-friendly,” he said. “Our Cedar building on the south side of campus hasn’t been upgraded since it was built in 1997. We’re putting TVs in now, and we’re refreshing the walls (with paint). … We’re finding out now once you get things, we only have so much bandwidth here. We have to contract to get it installed and the labor shortage is affecting (the work).”
Also as the Legislature approaches, NSHE will seek $12 million in funding for each year of the biennium to dedicate to a workforce and economic development investment program for each of the four community colleges and Nevada State College, Dalpe said. WNC’s portion would equate to $837,000 of this amount to help “plug some holes” the institution is losing from other funding sources, he said.
Finally, he hopes the session will be an opportunity to help build support for greater funding for the college’s deferred maintenance allocation for capital projects repairs.
“The system gets $15 million that is legislated every year tied to slot and gaming revenues,” he said. “That is a drop in the bucket. What the entire system gets is less than what we could fund right here. At WNC, we have $17 (million) to $18 million in deferred maintenance. … Our normal allocation is $400,000. We would be looking at getting $1.5 million, which is huge.”
Dalpe said it’s important to support the college’s current staffing and programs and continuing raising awareness of it is: a community college even if legally “community” no longer is in the name.
“We are a community college,” he said. “I don’t want the community or service areas to think we are some college that exists and doesn’t offer what a community college offers, which one of the five missions is workforce training. People have said, ‘I didn’t know you did automotive training.’ That’s what we’re designated for. But we’re a community college.”
Student enrollment for the spring is at about 3,800, and Dalpe would like to increase that to 4,000 as a peak count by 2025. It’s only a 200-count increase, he said, but it’s complicated. Most jobs now require more than high school but less than a bachelor’s or master’s degree, he said, and WNC seeks to provide technical training in the hope of getting students to come back in pursuit of going beyond.
It also has a total staff of 150 but has a vacancy rate approaching 15% with a large cohort of part-time instructors, which makes filling such positions a strong priority in the midst of the “Great Resignation” or even more prominent, the “Great Retirement.” For some staff members, who are seeking to accommodate what has become approximately a 32% rate in online courses, it can be difficult trying to balance offering in-person instruction and teach through Zoom. But Dalpe also was quick to note some departures aren’t entirely about that.
“We haven’t lost too many instructors, but we’ve had some people who have retired after 30 years or have said, ‘It’s time for me to retire,’ ” Dalpe said. “Some have said, ‘I don’t know if I can reinvent myself.’ We’ve had some vacancies because the cost of living here isn’t great, even in Fallon. That goes back to how we survived the pandemic.”
Dalpe, who has served as the college’s interim president since last March, said the year has been challenging but enjoyable. NSHE code requires when there is a vacancy in the office of president, the appointed interim must serve at least one year before the board can hire him full-time or go up to three years before making a decision or start a new search for another candidate.
In all, Dalpe said personally, he has enjoyed his year at WNC and seeing its progress.
“It’s the most exhausting job I’ve ever had, but it’s the most fun job I’ve ever had because it’s so rewarding,” he said. “It’s more than commencement when they walk across the stage. It’s helping to find resources for a student who didn’t think they could ever go to school.
“It’s just listening to the energy of that community. We serve many small communities. I will never ever be an expert in any of those communities because I don’t come from them … but if we can support what they need, then we’re doing our job.”
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