Nevada Legislature: Ex-presidents say community colleges have a losing formula
Two former campus presidents say the new higher education funding formula will cause irreparable damage to Nevada’s community colleges in multiple ways.
Carol Lucey, who led Western Nevada College for 14 years, and John Gwaltney, Truckee Meadows Community College president for nine years, said the new formulas are designed solely to benefit Nevada’s two universities and do so by stripping away the ability of community colleges to do their job.
“The bottom line is the chancellor and his staff set out to stop the war between UNLV and UNR,” Gwaltney said. “Everything else was window dressing.”
He said the concerns of community college leaders fell on deaf ears in the administration and Board of Regents.
The damage comes from a variety of directions, they said: cutting off per student funding for those who get an “F” grade, eliminating bridge funding and the “rural factor,” reducing funding if a college doesn’t graduate or award degrees to a certain percentage of students and providing double or higher the funding per credit hour for upper division classes.
The biggest long-term hit to the community college system, they said, is the shift to funding by weighted student credit hours. That means more state money for classes that supposedly cost more to teach. In a nutshell, lower division classes — those with numbers in the 100s and 200s — get half the state cash per credit than upper division classes — numbered in the 300s and 400s — get. Graduate level classes get even more.
Lucey said there are no controls over what numbers the universities assign to a given course so they can — and do — re-number them with impunity.
“In Nevada everything that can be upper division is because it makes more money,” she said.
She said one of the most insidious parts of that formula is it makes it much easier for universities to refuse to transfer credits from community college courses.
Since the university class is upper division, she said UNR and UNLV refuse to acknowledge and transfer credits earned for the same class at community colleges because it’s lower division. That means the student has to take — and pay for — the same class again.
Gwaltney proposed an amendment to the system budget prohibiting the universities from charging a student required to repeat a course he or she already took at the community college.
Refusing to pay the per credit funding for students who get an “F,” and tying funding to the percentage of degrees awarded they say ignores the reality of who community college students are. They described it as “a drive to encourage full time student enrollments at the expense of part time students.”
Gwaltney said many community college students take classes that help them get ahead in their jobs, not to get a degree. He said those students will take, for example, a computer aided design class to learn a specific set of skills. Once they have that knowledge, he said they often don’t complete the class and end up with an “F.”
Furthermore, he said, those students aren’t after a degree and won’t take all the other requirements needed to get that degree.
“The university’s push to get degrees is not going to work for the very career focused people who just want what they need,” he said.
Gwaltney cited the diesel mechanics program at Great Basin College saying once the student has those skills, “and somebody’s waving $60,000 a year in front of me, I’m probably off to the mines to work on diesel equipment.”
Lucey said the same is true of a variety of classes in the trades at WNC.
Gwaltney said another reality is those students working in the resort industry often end up dropping classes when their work schedule changes.
“Casinos pay very little attention to student needs,” he said. “Ninety percent of them are going to give up the class before they give up the job.”
Using 2012 numbers, Lucey said the impact of not paying for credits where the student got an “F” would cost WNC nearly $300,000 a year.
They said, however, the damage would be much worse at the larger urban community colleges. College of Southern Nevada would lose more than $2.5 million and TMCC just under $1 million annually.
The Board of Regents recommended “bridge funding” totaling $5 million to get WNC and GBC through the start of the new formula. Gov. Brian Sandoval cut that funding out at the same time proposing about double that much funding to start a second Nevada medical school at UNLV. Lawmakers have since said they want to add another $19 million to the medical school project.
They also called for restoration of the so-called “rural factor” — an added amount of funding for WNC and GBC in recognition no matter how small a campus or a class is, it has certain unavoidable costs to bear.
That impact forced both schools to reduce small class offerings — especially at the Fallon, Douglas County and Ely campuses — because they couldn’t meet the student-faculty ratios required in the new formula.
Lucey said the real impact of the new formula is to push more good students to the universities and send the students less prepared for college to the community colleges. She said community colleges already get a disproportionate share of students who aren’t ready for UNR or UNLV, including more Indian and Hispanic students.
She said the danger is the new formula is going to force community colleges to look at abandoning their open admission policies in order to keep their funding.
“The whole new funding formula ignores access to college,” she said.
Gwaltney said community colleges are for those students who need a chance to improve themselves and limiting access would close the door for a large number of students.
Lucey, Gwaltney and Ron Remington, who was GBC president for 12 years and CSN president four years authored a letter urging lawmakers to take a hard look at the new formula and, in fact, have their own fiscal staff analyze its impacts ahead of the 2017 Legislature.
Lawmakers, in the mean time, are planning to close the university system’s budgets this Friday.