(Lori Piotrowski) – The Nevada System of Higher Education has issued a report. That may not be news to many folks, but it was an effort by Chancellor Daniel Klaich to learn more about the state of Nevada’s community colleges. Klaich sanctioned a committee in June 2010, tasking them to determine what works, what doesn’t, and what can be done to improve the system.
According to Fresh Look at Nevada’s Community Colleges, the state “educates more students with public funds…because of a scarcity of private sector postsecondary alternatives.” The report examined issues such as funding, remediation, technology, course relevancy, among others, and suggested ten ways to improve the system.
- Lack of planning is a problem easily overcome. The committee recommended a strategic, 10-year, statewide plan that could be updated every year. The plan would implement measurable outcomes, such as student success milestones (e.g., graduation).
- In this age of ever-changing technology, it’s imperative that learning institutions be kept up-to-date. A technology board would be formed that would comprise 14 individuals from the faculty, private sector (one from a social networking firm, a technology venture capitalist, a technology writer for a national publication), a state economic development official, and a tech-savvy union official, among the group. The board’s duty would be to develop a technology plan, recognize technology trends, and determine how technology should be implemented in the classroom.
- The committee recognized that the colleges are incorporating more online and hybrid classes, but then suggested that these classes be outsourced to a new, privately funded Nevada Virtual College. Unfortunately, eliminating online courses would also deprive the colleges of needed funding. (More on this later.)
- Focus on a plan that encompasses kindergarten through grade 16 (that is, college graduation). It was suggested that because many students and their families are unfamiliar with how to proceed with a post-secondary education, that stronger bonds be forged between institutions of higher education and the junior and senior high schools.
- Remedial education is falling to the community colleges. The committee suggests that students whose knowledge is not up to college level be returned to high schools or private institutions to polish those skills. This would leave the colleges free to focus on teaching college-level courses.
- Variable tuition pricing was suggested as a way to increase revenues. The committee learned that Nevada’s educational system charges less in tuition and fees than comparable institutions across the U.S. This has been done to encourage more students to enroll in post-secondary education. However, this has not been the case. Bringing these “below market price” fees in line with what other institutions charge is seen as a way to increase revenues while offering students “meaningful need-based financial aid.”
- A review of course offerings is necessary to eliminate irrelevant coursework and certifications. The colleges should work more closely with the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation (DETR) so that certificates mirror career opportunities.
- The committee also suggested that colleges work with high schools to encourage dual enrollment. Furthermore, it recommended a 10-year goal of one-third of graduating seniors receiving an associate degree along with their high school diploma. In addition, college courses would be offered at a lower tuition rate, or other rebates would be offered upon matriculating after graduation.
- The current funding program for colleges is based on student enrollment. An alternative would be to fund based on “successful completion of key milestones and courses” and “incentives on a sliding scale for timely degree/certificate completion.”
- The committee’s research showed that other state systems, which use a local governing board, are more successful. This would relegate some of the Board of Regents’ duties to a local board, which would help ensure that the college is more responsive to the community’s specific needs.
The NSHE report is a beginning, but the system needs an overhaul. The engine is still running, but its tune-up is long overdue.
Dr. Michael Richards, president of the College of Southern Nevada, was on the committee. He posted his synopsis of Fresh Look and asked faculty for their opinions. You can read his comments and those of others here.
On Monday, we’ll examine these ten suggestions and offer a few ideas of our own.