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December 18, 2014

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EDUCATION:

Its leader gone, Nevada State College left in limbo

Image

Heather Cory

In this October 2008 photo, Nevada State College President Fred Maryanski hosts the opening ceremony celebration of the college's liberal arts and sciences building. Maryanski died July 2, leaving the college without a leader.

Fred Maryanski Public Memorial

Karen and David Maryanski enter the Henderson Convention Center ballroom Wednesday, July 7, 2010 for the memorial service held in Fred Maryanski's honor. Launch slideshow »
Chancellor Dan Klaich

Chancellor Dan Klaich

Steven Horsford

Steven Horsford

A popular place

Nevada State College opened eight years ago with just 176 students. This year, enrollment is more than 2,600, up 20 percent over last year, the fastest enrollment growth of any institution in the Nevada college system.

You would see them at campus forums, scattered in the audience at Board of Regents meetings and holding signs at community rallies to protest cuts to higher education.

Wearing distinctive sweatshirts proclaiming them Nevada State College students, they shared their stories with education officials and lawmakers, urging them to protect their campus and their opportunities for success.

Higher ed system Chancellor Dan Klaich said he often took note of the many gold-and-black-clad students in those crowds, seeing it as “an enormous compliment” to NSC President Fred Maryanski, who died July 2 after a long battle with cancer.

It also speaks to the kind of campus Maryanski helped to shape in his five-year tenure, and the “enormous challenge” the higher ed system will face in trying to replace him, Klaich said.

With Maryanski’s death, the college is without a leader. And the campus’s path is uncertain as the Nevada System of Higher Education wrestles with massive budget deficits that are forcing program eliminations and faculty layoffs throughout the state.

Here’s the three-tiered system that regents envisioned when NSC was created: UNR and UNLV would burnish their research missions. The community colleges, including the College of Southern Nevada, would serve as the open-access entry to higher ed for most students. And Nevada State College would fill the gap, as the sole option for individuals seeking four-year bachelor’s degrees who might not make the academic cutoff for entry into UNLV or UNR.

The college opened in downtown Henderson eight years ago with just 176 students.

This year, NSC enrollment is up 20 percent over 2009, the fastest rate of growth of any institution in the system. Two-thirds of the more than 2,600 students are in education or nursing programs. Many are the first in their family to pursue higher education. And about 90 percent of the college’s graduates remain in the state.

That last figure is particularly important because it suggests NSC is contributing to Nevada’s need for a highly qualified workforce.

And if anyone needed further proof, it came this week during a particularly poignant moment at a memorial service for Maryanski. His son, David, noted that two of the nurses helping his father during his final days were NSC graduates.

Their professionalism and skillful care are a testament to the college, he said.

At several points during the service, the speakers alluded to NSC’s future, and pledged that Maryanski’s mission would not be derailed.

State Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-North Las Vegas, said the college had opened doors to thousands of nontraditional students, including many of his constituents. The greatest tribute to Maryanski would be to preserve NSC’s mission as an open door to a better life for students — many of them minorities — and “seek to make it everything he wanted it to be,” Horsford said.

But the harsher reality is that NSC doesn’t exist in a vacuum where it can be isolated and protected. Rather, it is part of the complex — and cash-strapped — Nevada System of Higher Education.

Klaich said Thursday it’s too soon to talk about a new president of NSC. But he knows this: When the time comes, the community — students, faculty, staff and the college’s many stakeholders — will be fully involved in the selection process.

“Hopefully by listening to those communities, and by looking both inward and outward, we’ll find the kind of person who can guide Nevada State while we search for a permanent president,” Klaich said.

As for the college’s future, Klaich said its mission as the affordable public option for students seeking a four-year bachelor’s degree is “clear, distinct and valid.”

But with education officials being told to brace for more cuts in state funding of as much as 10 percent, “the economic times are going to force us to not just look at what is NSC’s mission, or CSN or UNLV,” Klaich said. “We have to look at the population we need to serve, particularly in Southern Nevada, and how do we do the best job we can.”

That means looking at existing partnerships among the system’s institutions, as well as the bridge to the Clark County School District, which produces the bulk of the state’s higher ed students.

“How do we foster relationships that let us utilize all our funds, and all our facilities, to the maximum efficiency?” Klaich said.

For NSC, that could mean sharing faculty and classroom space with CSN, which has had to turn away thousands of students after cutting back on its course offerings. It’s something that several regents, such as Kevin Page and Michael Wixom, have said they want to explore.

The most recent higher ed budget cuts totaled 6 percent, and resulted in not only significant program cuts at UNLV and UNR, but faculty layoffs as well. To trim the requisite amount from NSC’s $16 million operating budget, Maryanski left faculty and staff positions vacant, rather than cut classes or raise fees. In an interview with the Sun in March, Maryanski said he was keenly aware of the many hurdles his students were facing as a result of the recession.

“We’ll continue with some internal pain and hopefully not transfer that to our students,” Maryanski said.

And that attitude — students first — is something Klaich vowed to preserve at NSC.

“Fred fostered a culture that made these students feel welcome, and made them understand their self-worth and ability to succeed,” Klaich said. “I think that’s what we’re always looking for in a college president, but it’s especially critical in a young campus with this kind of student demographic.”

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