Concerns and ideas offered about future of WNC-Fallon campus
After eight months of discussing the future of Western Nevada College Fallon, members of the community proposed ideas on Wednesday for saving the campus to the chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education at a special Churchill County Commission meeting.More than 100 people attended the special meeting that included Chancellor Dan Klaich, who wanted to know more of the problems with WNC Fallon and how the Board of Regents can address them.In a meeting that lasted more than two hours, both Klaich and WNC President Dr. Carol Lucey talked about the budgetary problems facing all campuses, and also heard a number of people offer suggestions about expanding the campus’ role in the community.Commission Chairman Norm Frey said Wednesday’s meeting was a result of the county sitting down with Klaich in October, and in turn, having the chancellor come to Fallon to meet with interested citizens and also members of the Restore Our Community College Campus. The committee grew out of a meeting in February in which current and former WNC employees expressed their frustration of the dwindling number of classes, instructors and programs.Klaich said he understands the concerns of rural Nevada and what makes those communities tick, and reiterated several times that he wanted to hear the concerns and then work with the community.“I understand how important this college is for your community and for the kids and for the health of the economic diversity,” the chancellor said.Before the commission opened the floor for comments, Frey said he feels the University of Nevada system is pulling away from the state’s residents and is more concerned with drawing students from either out of state or country. Frey also lamented the reduced role of the College of Agriculture, now known as the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources.Frey also said he would like to see a community college serve the urban areas in Northern Nevada and another college do the same in Clark County. Frey said rural Nevada would benefit from having its own community college, adding that instructors are a big part of the community and add to the economic development. He also detailed how the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension responds to rural Nevada’s need, which he said are different from those in Las Vegas or Reno.“We need a college that reflects what the community wants,” Commissioner Pete Olsen said, adding that the community college allows students to “get a jump” on university requirements or helps students stay in the community to finish their university prerequisites because it is less expensive.Bus Scharmann, retired WNC dean and founder of the ROCCC movement, said the college has been in a “spiral downfall” for 11-12 years, but he is pleased that awareness has risen for the campus’ future.“If the ROCCC committee did anything, it was to establish awareness to make people take a look over their shoulders,” he said. “ROCCC has been a voice for a lot of adult learners in rural Nevada, not just Churchill County.”Scharmann and other ROCCC members also met with other concerned educators and lawmakers in Winnemucca several months ago to discuss the plight of higher education in rural Nevada.Scharmann said Fallon needs to have its own autonomy to schedule its own courses and instructors.“We have great a college here. Let’s build on it,” he said, adding that the campus grew and prospered with a combination of full-time and highly qualified instructors from the community.“Let the Fallon campus be the master of is own fate and let them make their own schedules,” he said.Tom Riggins, a real estate appraiser and former member of the school board, said a community without an education facility is hampered in attracting new businesses. He said it would set back Fallon for years if WNC closed its doors here.ROCCC President Bob Clifford agreed with Scharmann and Riggins, but he also questioned about the state’s hold-harmless money for WNC because of impending budget cuts. Klaich assured him the Board of Regents would prioritize and fight for the colleges and universities.Having the nursing program moved from Fallon to Carson City has also put a strain on the hospital and local students. John D’Angelo, CEO of Banner Churchill Community Hospital, said the hospital relies on an educated staff, but now students must come from Elko or Carson City to perform their clinical training. He said it is a plus for an organization to have an educated workforce.Mayor Ken Tedford Jr. acknowledged that it has been an uphill battle to keep the college programs here, but he added the people want the community college.“I know we need a college here. I know the community needs to be educated. Society needs to be educated,” Tedford said.The mayor said the community must remain focused on Fallon’s needs and be specific in telling the chancellor what courses and programs the campus must offer.Retired WNC Dean Michelle Dondero said a determination must be made to schedule specific classes for the campus and what constitutes basic classes.Bob Adams, general manager of CC Communications, said the company has a tuition program, but his employees cannot take advantage of the program because of no classes. Sheriff Ben Trotter said local professionals would be eager to teach classes for free if the WNC administration would allow them.Tom Considine, a member of the Churchill Economic Development Authority, questioned why a geothermal program was started in Reno instead of Fallon, which is the second largest county in the United States producing geothermal energy.“We are the hub of renewable energy,” he said.Others asked if dual credit for college classes could be offered to high school students. Some attendees questioned the effectiveness of online classes, and if the money for those courses stays in Fallon.Lucey said many “great” ideas came of out the discussion, and she agreed the college needs to do more to attract high school students to take dual credit classes.She also discussed programs that have begun to help the workforce, both in Fallon and Carson City.“We placed 18 people in machinists’ jobs in Carson City,” she pointed out.Lucey also said she wanted to clarify any misunderstanding regarding the Fallon campus, but she said the state’s tight education budget has been a burden on all campuses.She touted some of the newer programs in Fallon and added WNC is “restructuring its workforce development part of the curriculum.”Frey said future workshop sessions will be scheduled to continue discussion on the suggestions made during Wednesday’s meeting.