Las Vegas Sun

November 19, 2017

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Nevada State College: Yet to be victim of budget ax?

Beyond the Sun

On the administration building of Nevada State College in Henderson, the youngest and smallest college in the university system, is a big clock.

On a recent morning, it read 10:25 a.m. Except, it was actually 11:30.

These days, things are a little off at Nevada State, a scrappy, famished liberal-arts institution modeled after California state colleges that are midway between community colleges and elite research universities.

If a projected deficit of $3 billion for the next two-year state budget proves true, the focus may again turn to severe education cuts. And it raises the question of whether the Legislature, which holds the purse strings, will sacrifice fledgling Nevada State.

The move would orphan nearly 3,000 students, many of whom are older, low-income and have spread their education over more than four years because they work.

A C average in high school is sufficient for admission to Nevada State; the SAT examinations are not required. At $100 a credit for 120 credits to graduate, tuition is a relatively thrifty $12,000.

A majority of students are minorities and two-thirds are women. Many are attracted to Nevada State because of its programs in teaching and nursing.

“If they close, I’m moving to Texas, and Houston here I come,” said Karla Mitchell, 28, a nursing major with friends in Texas, “because I am done with Nevada.”

Although new public colleges in other states are funded with multimillion-dollar budgets: Arizona State University — West in Tempe launched with $10 million in seed money — Nevada State started in 2002 with state spending of just $625,000.

Today it has grown to $13 million, which pales to UNLV’s $172 million annual budget for more than 29,000 students.

In fact, Nevada State is considered the state’s most fragile institution in higher education. Its enrollment has wobbled, but stabilized recently. Funding is down; staff has been cut to the bone and the campus is recovering from the recent death of founding president Fred Maryanski.

James Dean Leavitt, chairman of the Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents, went out of his way at the August meeting to say Nevada State won’t be shut down. He stands by the pledge, even though the Legislature could force his hand. “I said it very deliberately,” he said last week, “on purpose, forthrightly.”

Still, university system officials are partly responsible for the death talk. As the state budget crisis worsened this year, the emphasis turned to education budget cuts of $147 million over two years.

Click to enlarge photo

Chancellor Dan Klaich

In February, Chancellor Dan Klaich laid out what such budget cuts would mean to higher education, including closing down Nevada State.

In the end, the Legislature found other ways to balance the budget and stepped back from Draconian cuts of 22 percent and put into effect still-severe cuts of nearly 7 percent for higher education.

But the idea of closing Nevada State stings. After the August regents meeting, Sebring Frehner, Nevada State’s student body president, asked Klaich urgent questions about the possible closure of the college.

Frehner said, in effect, the February worst-case scenario “must have been for show, right?” The chancellor assured him it was not.

Klaich, who confirms the account, said last week that he is obligated to inform the public with the best data, “if, in fact, the sky is falling.”

Klaich emphasized that closing Nevada State was raised under a 22-percent cut scenario, not the eventual 7 percent. When asked whether the budget crisis might be worse next year, Klaich replied, “I don’t know.”

Frehner said he got the impression that “the regents are holding back on the hatchet until they get the order that the hatchet is going to come down” from state lawmakers.

Joyce Woodhouse is a state senator who represents Henderson. If re-elected next month, she may return as chairwoman of the Education Committee, which will review education funding.

Woodhouse said that next February, when the Legislature convenes, will be different from last February when the regents considered shuttering Nevada State.

“Our budget deficit will be much worse,” she said, sighing audibly. “But I think what we have to keep in mind is that we have to provide the institutions for our young people to continue their schooling.

“We’ve probably cut into the bone already.”

She added, “The things that are nonessential we’ll have to cut them out, but, bottom line, education is essential.” She was not more specific.

Lesley DiMare

Lesley DiMare

For her part, acting President Lesley DiMare is stoical. She was present at the meeting where Klaich discussed closing Nevada State.

“It’s always an unhappy thing to see that because of a deficit your campus is going to be affected,” she said recently. “It’s not productive to have your blood pressure go up and become so upset that you can’t keep your eye on the ball.”

The daughter of a factory-efficiency expert in Utica, N.Y., DiMare got her bachelor’s degree in rhetoric from California State University, Chico, and a doctorate in rhetoric from Indiana University. Her entire life has been in education, most recently at Arizona State University — West, where she was chairwoman of the communications department.

When she was recruited to Nevada State in 2007 to become provost, she saw possibility among the largely undeveloped 500 acres near a Hostess cupcake plant.

Nevada State’s administration buildings are near Henderson City Hall — five miles from the school’s two principal classroom buildings. There’s a third small classroom building near the administration buildings.

One of DiMare’s priorities is to construct a fourth building over the next several years, a 60,000-square-foot facility for the nursing program. At $35 million, 80 percent of it state funding, DiMare knows it is a challenge.

Woodhouse is cautious. “We can be show-ready” and plan for the nursing building, she said, “but I don’t know how long it will take.”

Keeping what Nevada State has is proving a greater challenge. The college’s funding has been slashed 28 percent to $13 million from $18.1 million when enrollment grew from 2,600 students to nearly 3,000 (fall enrollment figures this year aren’t available yet).

Andy Kuniyuki, a biology professor who is associate dean in the Liberal Arts & Sciences School, said its staffing has been reduced to 19 positions from 27, even as more students are taking classes.

“It is becoming harder,” he said. “Nevertheless, we are managing. We aren’t walking around as if we have a heavy black cloud over our heads.”

Mitchell agrees. Her fellow nursing students follow the news about state finances and Nevada State, but concentrate on their studies.

“The students here care, and mom and dad aren’t paying the bills,” she said. “We just go ahead and do our business.”

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