Retired presidents say community colleges need to separate themselves from university system | Nevada Legislature | RecordCourier.com

Retired presidents say community colleges need to separate themselves from university system | Nevada Legislature

by Geoff Dornan
gdornan@nevadaappeal.com

Two of Nevada's retired community college presidents say the proposed higher education budget won't come close to enabling those schools to train the workers needed by Tesla and other high-tech companies moving to Nevada.

The governor's budget beefed up higher education funding by $115 million for the coming biennium, but only a bit more than $21 million of that is directly headed to the community colleges.

John Gwaltney, who headed Truckee Meadows Community College, and Carol Lucey, former president of Western Nevada College, say they don't blame Gov. Brian Sandoval.

They said the fault is with the Nevada System of Higher Education and the Board of Regents.

"I'm not upset with the governor because the governor gave the system what they wanted," said Gwaltney.

The problem, the past presidents say, is the system is "university-centric," focusing overwhelmingly on what University of Nevada, Reno and University of Nevada, Las Vegas want without understanding the needs that can only be filled by the community colleges.

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Both say that's never going to change so the only solution is to separate the community colleges from the university system. They have a bill for the upcoming Legislature that would do just that — give the four community colleges their freedom. What's more, they say the bill doesn't have a fiscal note — a cost to the state.

"The divorce is more important than the settlement," said Lucey.

Both say the people who run the system don't understand the community colleges and don't understand technology.

"They think the only learning that's worthwhile has a bachelor's degree associated with it," Gwaltney said.

"They'll never fund them adequately," Lucey said. "Everything is headed toward the universities."

Lucey said a perfect example is the $83 million plan for a new UNR Engineering College building.

"For every engineer, you probably need seven skilled technicians to back him up," Gwaltney said.

Both say the hi-tech companies coming to Nevada should have more say in what those schools teach because they know what they need.

They said the proposed budget includes $21.4 million for the community colleges but that half the total will go to the College of Southern Nevada and half of what's left to TMCC. Lucey said that leaves Western and Great Basin with between $4 million and $5 million — about what they got during the current budget as "bridge funding" to cover the transition to the new funding formula. She said there's not really any new money there.

They said the community colleges, particularly Western, Great Basin and TMCC, don't have the capacity to produce the trained people those companies need.

"TMCC and Western over five years can train 3,500 people," said Gwaltney. "We're talking Tesla will need 6,000-plus people."

And if they can't get those trained workers here, Lucey said they'll come from California and other places that provide career and technical training, not from Nevada.

"They may be producing new jobs but if (Nevadans) can't get the training, they can't get the jobs," Lucey said.

And that means funding without which "We are not going to build the capacity to do what Tesla needs," she said.

Sandoval, Lucey said, "did what the system told him: let's get the fancy stuff for the universities and let the community colleges get by. They can sustain on a pittance."

As evidence, she pointed out since the 2010-11 budget, Western Nevada College's general fund appropriation has shrunk by 31 percent from $18.5 million to $12.7 million. Great Basin College's appropriation has dipped 35 percent from $16.5 million to $12.2 million. TMCC lost 15 percent to $30.4 million. The result: fewer students. Western is down 31 percent, Great Basin 15 percent and TMCC 13 percent in head count.

"If you really want community colleges to function for workforce development, you need to solve the long term problems," Lucey said.

She said step one is separating the community colleges from the universities.