Thursday, Sept. 12, 2013 | 2 a.m.
North Las Vegas may soon be home to the newest old college in Southern Nevada.
North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee said this week that the College of Southern Nevada should give its Cheyenne campus to the city of North Las Vegas, meaning the oldest of CSN’s three campuses could eventually become a city entity.
“We’re going to take control of that,” Lee said in an interview with the Sun editorial board Tuesday. “We’re going to put people underneath the board of that, business owners. We’re going to figure out what we need in our community for jobs and how we can direct (CSN president) Mike Richards and say these are the big needs we have here.”
Lee said he’d like to see the community college controlled locally rather than by the state’s Board of Regents.
The newly elected mayor made these comments during a wide-ranging interview in which he discussed opportunities to remedy the city’s budget woes, spur economic development, promote a medical school in Southern Nevada, hire a new management team, and refocus the city government’s goals.
The seemingly obscure change of community college governance would pay dividends in the form of refocusing the college’s programming to the needs of the residents of North Las Vegas, Lee said.
He said the state’s management of higher education institutions means administrators in Northern Nevada have some level of control over what happens in North Las Vegas.
“I actually wish we had our own Board of Regents for just the southern half of the state, and the northern had their guys and we could just do what we wanted down here and not have to go past Tonopah to ask anybody to do anything,” Lee said. “The state actually hampers us in so many ways.”
Although he’s not proposing a Southern Nevada board, he said he’d like to start with a North Las Vegas advisory board at the Cheyenne campus of CSN. Such a board would have no real power but could advocate for the city’s interests at the Cheyenne campus, one of CSN’s three campuses.
CSN spokeswoman K.C. Brekkan said the college already has 46 advisory boards with a total of 321 board members who advise the college about academic and occupational programming.
“These are members of local industries and organizations that support specific academic programs,” she wrote in an email to the Sun. “They meet regularly to ensure that CSN academic programs are training students in the latest technology and that curricula are relevant.”
The Cheyenne campus currently offers culinary arts and automotive programs. It also hosts a center for Cisco Systems to train workers at a Telecommunications and Media Technologies training facility.
The campus also houses a planetarium.
Lee said he doesn’t feel like the campus has a well-defined identity in the community that it serves.
“For the most part, when you think of the community college at Cheyenne, what do you think?” he said. “Nothing. It’s just like smoke. You can’t touch anything, you know?”
Lee, a former state senator, said he understands the Legislature has made a few changes to give more local control to colleges.
The Legislature passed a bill this year allowing state colleges and universities to keep their tuition dollars on campus rather than sending that money to the Nevada System of Higher Education for reallocation.
But Lee said he’d like to see total control of the colleges devolve to local jurisdictions like North Las Vegas.
The Legislature is also studying this idea during the interim before the 2015 session. Legislators, business leaders, Nevada’s education office, local governments and the governor’s economic development office will meet periodically to talk about who should control the state’s community colleges.
Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Dan Klaich said this process should address the future of Nevada’s community colleges.
“The bottom line is Nevada's community colleges have a mission to serve the communities in which they are located,” Klaich wrote in an email to the Sun. “We are open to all constructive ideas that the mayor or anyone may have to bring our colleges and communities closer together.”
Lee, however, said he doesn’t want to wait until the community college study committee publishes its recommendations in late 2014 or early 2015.
“I’m not going to wait until the Legislature or Dan Klaich say ‘OK, here’s what you’re going to do,’” Lee said. “No, we’re going to move in this direction. … Where do we want to take CSN now? If this was our college, where would we want to go? That’s what I’m talking about, and that will happen.”