Burton: WNC in good shape for future
For Chet Burton, leaving as president of Western Nevada College is bittersweet.
He guided the community college as it fought to recover from the recession, now seeing the first real increase in WNC’s budget in years and a long list of good things on the horizon.
“Overall, I think the college is in a good place right now,” Burton said. “I’m excited. We’ve laid the groundwork for a lot of things.”
Burton left the college Monday, headed for a new challenge as director of finance at the university system chancellor’s office.
But he made it clear he’ll be back periodically to see how some of those projects are doing — including the complete modernization of the campus chemistry, biology, nursing and anatomy laboratories in the Aspen Building. Those improvements, which he described as badly needed, are being paid for by a grant from the Pennington Foundation.
“And I’d like to see a dorm,” he said. “It’s badly needed.”
Burton first arrived at WNC in 2009 as controller. He was made finance director then, after a brief departure, returned in 2013 as vice president of finance., taking over as president after the resignation of Carol Lucey.
He was there through the depths of the recession that saw WNC’s budget cut from $23 million to just $18 million.
“I’m proud of from 2013 to 2015 we had to take some pretty big, hard cuts,” he said. “But we made sure we took no cuts that directly affected students.”
And throughout that lean time, he pointed out the campus fought to expand Career and Technical Education offerings and, recently, brought back the rural nursing program at the Fallon campus.
He said WNC also pioneered the dual enrollment program Jump Start that puts high school students into classes that can get them an associate’s degree by the time they get their high school diploma.
Burton said he thinks what WNC did with that program is the reason Gov. Brian Sandoval has championed dual enrollment, now expanded to all institutions in the Nevada System of Higher Education.
He said he’s also proud of WNC’s efforts to support, guide and train Nevada veterans.
“A lot of veterans don’t understand what benefits they’ve earned for their service,” Burton said.
To help them, he said the school provides a strong support structure as well as fiscal support.
The future of WNC and Nevada’s other community colleges, he says, is CTE training in fields such as welding, machine tools, automotive mechanics and advanced industrial technology.
“It’s clear that’s where the job growth is right now,” he said. “We have really developed a strong partnership with (the Northern Nevada Development Agency).”
Burton said WNC and the community college system are uniquely able to do that: “If you want to start a new program at the university level, it could take years. At WNC, a business says we need this training and we can have the program up in a couple of months.”
He said the growing career tech programs and such things as Jump Start for high-schoolers, “show how we’re able to react very quickly to what the community needs.”
He said that’s critical to meet the demands of northern Nevada manufacturing companies that are all struggling to find skilled workers.
After several sessions of lean budgets, he said the 2017 Legislature, “was great for us.”
Not only the overall funding but, most importantly, the change in the university system’s funding formula that recognizes many CTE classes are expensive because they require expensive equipment and small class sizes. The formula change recognizes that, doubling the amount of funding per credit hour-per student for those classes.
In his new job at the chancellor’s office, Burton said his extensive financial background is key as is his experience with state government. He spent 20 years in the Navy as a supply officer followed by nine years in finance at IGT before coming to WNC.
After several legislative sessions, he said, “I understand the process and, hopefully, can be a very good advocate for our students.
“I preach to staff all the time, never lose sight of the fact students are our customers.”
He said he will carry that philosophy to the chancellor’s office as well.