Thursday, Nov. 20, 2008 | 2 a.m.
Students file onto the College of Southern Nevada’s Sahara West Center on weeknights to take classes that will improve their career prospects: English as a second language, basic mathematics, GED preparation.
Recent Saturday offerings there form an eclectic mix, covering topics from digital photography and basic Spanish to training for health professionals providing emergency care.
The center on Las Verdes Street by Sahara Avenue and Valley View Boulevard enables area residents to learn about college in an intimate atmosphere, said Kay Fitzgerald, Sahara West’s coordinator. Visiting CSN’s nearby West Charleston Boulevard campus, which serves more than 35,000 students, “can just be intimidating for some folks,” she said.
In June, unless the state’s finances improve dramatically or CSN can raise private funds to keep Sahara West open, the center, along with five others, will close, a response to the governor’s request that public agencies including the higher education system make deep budget cuts.
Even with colleges buying out and laying off employees, the closure plans CSN President Michael Richards laid out this summer are among the most severe cost-saving measures higher education institutions have announced in both scale and effect on the community.
Fitzgerald said students fill about 5,000 class seats each year at Sahara West.
And with campuses in Boulder City, Lincoln County and the Moapa Valley also preparing to close, the shutdowns would wipe out all but one of CSN’s learning centers outside Las Vegas’ metropolitan corridor — dismaying for a college whose mission is to serve Southern Nevada. It is not, after all, the College of Las Vegas.
Numbers CSN provided this summer show the closures are expected to save the college $637,500 annually, about 4.4 percent of the $14.53 million the school would have to cut each year if it lost 14 percent of its state funding — the percentage public agencies were planning to slash before state officials announced in recent weeks that Nevada’s financial outlook had worsened.
One reason for the extreme measures is that CSN is already short on money, receiving fewer state dollars per student than Nevada’s three other public community colleges.
In fiscal 2007-08, CSN, which serves the largest and most ethnically diverse student body of any Nevada public higher education institution, received $6,753 per full-time-equivalent student. Great Basin College got $11,990, Truckee Meadows Community College, $7,806, and Western Nevada College $9,788, according to a June memo from CSN to the Board of Regents, which governs Nevada’s public higher education system.
The board could ask some colleges to make larger budget cuts than others, and Regents Chairman Michael Wixom said the funding disparity between CSN and other schools is an issue he and colleagues will consider.
Adding a twist to CSN’s situation, three centers to be shuttered have seen enrollment of credit-seeking students spike this semester. The college’s Downtown Learning Center was serving 114 such students as of Oct. 15, up from 15 last fall. And Sahara West enrolled 106, up from seven last fall.
At the Moapa Valley campus, a modular building in a high school parking lot, 197 credit-seeking students were signed up as of Oct. 15, 75 more than at the same time last year. Many attendees are high schoolers hoping to earn college credit before leaving home, as they must if they want to pursue a bachelor’s degree in a classroom program.
Though officials hope to reopen closed sites when funding improves, Joan McGee, executive director of CSN’s learning centers, fears that building them back up to current levels will prove to be very difficult.
One reason: when a campus closes, McGee said, “the community trusts you less.”