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April 21, 2015

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Educated workforce is top priority for state, CSN

Nevada 3.0: Economic development

As the Legislature considers several proposals to improve the economy, CSN President Dr. Michael Richards writes about his views of the community college's role in this piece.

The Sun's editorial board weighs in on the state's direction. The Sun also asks Steve Hill, the executive director of the Governor's Office for Economic Development, a few questions about the state's progress.

This is all part of the Sun's Nevada 3.0 project, which is looking at issues confronting the state and ways to move forward.

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Nevada has never had more momentum to diversify its economy than today. Our community is making visionary plans for the future that involve progressive transportation alternatives, investments in research and development, and entrepreneurship.

It’s no secret that for years we’ve lacked the necessary emphasis on education, and Nevada has the low graduation and college-going rates to show for it. So unless we want out-of-state talent securing the jobs at the businesses this state is working so hard to attract, we must fortify our own Battle Born workforce.

There are many exciting developments, and I look forward to supporting the Las Vegas Regional Development Authority as it releases a comprehensive strategy to support Gov. Brian Sandoval’s efforts this spring. There is much we must do going forward. Here’s my vision for what this community’s college can do for economic development.

In Nevada, 16 percent of residents age 16 and older lack basic literacy skills, according to the National Center for Education Statistics’ most recent data (2003). In Clark County, that number is 18 percent, the highest percentage in any Nevada county.

At CSN, the non-academic-credit Division of Workforce & Economic Development does heavy lifting. In fiscal year 2012, the division’s grant-supported literacy program enrolled more than 2,000 students. That’s about double the number of CSN students who transferred to UNLV this fall.

CSN’s DWED has a waiting list of students who want these non-academic-credit, basic reading skills and GED/ESL courses, offered throughout the valley, including the Strip.

The division works closely with the state’s Department of Employment, Training & Rehabilitation to pre-screen clients for workforce readiness and provide the necessary training. This ACT assessment measures “real world” skills that are crucial to job success. It leads to a National Career Readiness Certificate, a portable credential earned by more than 1 million Americans.

Finally. We have credible documentation for residents who cannot upend their lives at the moment to get a college degree to show employers exactly what they can do.

But how many Nevada employers know about WorkKeys and actively seek out hires with the NCRC credential? The ACT carries a lot of weight when used as a measure of college readiness, why not the workforce? We need to do more to promote this as an economic development tool.

When I meet with CSN students, I encourage them to reach beyond an associate degree to a bachelor’s and beyond. But that path is not for everyone. CSN offers a number of two-year degree programs that lead graduates into successful, well-paying technical careers. We must enhance their appeal. We live in the desert and yet air conditioning maintenance, for all its job security, is an often overlooked career field. This is a similar story for many of the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields, including electronics, power utilities and aviation.

I want to increase the number of partnerships CSN has with local industries, particularly in areas outlined in the governor’s economic development plan. A great example of this is the college’s partnership with the electronics-based defense contractor JT3. Students take six core courses in CSN’s electronics engineering program and then apply with the company. If hired, the student may be offered a bonus to help cover the costs of the courses they have already taken. In addition, JT3 encourages the student to complete their associate of applied science in electronics degree by covering the tuition and books.

Of course, CSN, an open-door school, has a unique role as the most affordable postsecondary education in the southern half of the state, and we are an excellent pathway to a four-year degree at Nevada State College, UNLV and UNR. In this effort, we need to do more to help students successfully achieve their goals. For too long, we’ve asked them to navigate financial aid, degree requirements and transfers on their own.

This spring, I look forward to seeing the results of the Las Vegas Regional Development Authority’s planning, a collaborative process meant to ensure economic development leaves no socioeconomic group behind.

Providing our residents with the skills they need to succeed in a changing job market gives people independence, confidence and job security.

What Nevada has now is a savvy workforce that knows how to survive in tough times. More education can help us entice successful companies to move here and foster the kind of environment where new ventures can thrive.

Dr. Michael Richards is the president of the College of Southern Nevada.

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  1. Future,

    I don't agree with much of what you have written in the past. This is something I agree with. Your correct we could do more with online education.

    Most of what Dr. Richard is promoting has to do with hands-on. This would be challenge for online students. At some point a student would have to go a campus or approved area to demonstrate competency in a given course.

  2. Even as a senior citizen I was looking into some of the offerings at CSN's technical and certificate programs as my retirement was totally wiped out during the market crash/rape by Wall Street. Many of the programs accept very few students either once or twice a year, especially in the medical field, which is a critical area of need.

    It is important to our economy to further develop these areas of education as there are many mature workers willing and able (and with some, a necessity) to remain active contributors to the employment and economic tax base. Do not forget the mature, displaced workers ready to learn new skills and who can raise the bar in academic achievement for our County.

  3. Electronic Education works well for students who are self-motivated, and have a reasonably solid background in educational basics. It is not recommended for students who are NOT serious about doing the WORK.

    Remedial students require quite a bit of support. If you review the academic work history (that includes reading the comments of past teachers on years of report cards), you begin to understand the underlying problem with underachievers has been lifelong, and is a very difficult challenge to change or break that cycle which impeded their academic success.

    One of the most neglected facets of education, is with dealing with the mental state of a student. Counseling/guidance of a remedial student throughout the process is essential for that student's success. I sure hope the writer, Dr. Michael Richards, also has that in mind, otherwise it will be a waste of time and money, and continue the trend that Nevada has followed for years.

    As Commenter, A.J.Kircher, noted, CSN would do well by adapting programs for displaced workers, streamlining them, as mature workers have the background in working and are quite motivated to work the programs. Commenter Future is quite the advocate for online education. Throughout Nevada, for years now, there has been online education. There are limitations on what types of coursework that can be offered online, and the real problem, is the TRANFERABILITY of online course credits (not all educational institutions will allow those credits earned). Until that system is improved, we will continue to creep along at a stone age pace with online education. Sad to say.

    What we do need, is a movement to make all internet FREE. Other countries do this, why can't the USA????

    Blessings and Peace,

  4. I watched the Charlie Rose interview with Salman Khan recently and learned about the Khan Academy online.

    Wow! I could have used that when I was in school and beyond. I love it!