A bill introduced into law aims to create a separate governing body for Nevada’s community colleges – something advocates have been pushing for years.
Senate Bill 321, presented on March 22 and referred to the Senate Education Committee, would create the Nevada System of Community Colleges. The main sponsors of the bill are Sens. James Settelmeyer, R-Minden; Senator Scott Hammond, R. Las Vegas; and Senator Ira Hansen, R-Sparks.
If the bill were to become law, community colleges would be removed from the authority of the Nevada System of Higher Education effective July 1, 2022, making it harder for students to move from two- to four-year schools.
NSHE currently oversees eight public schools, including four community colleges: the College of Southern Nevada, Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno, Western Nevada College in Carson City, and Great Basin College in Elko.
The state community college system would have its own governing body with members appointed by the governor in accordance with the law. The board would appoint a managing director. And each community college would also have its own governor-appointed board of trustees.
Governor Steve Sisolak referred to the concept in his January state speech, saying it needs to be recognized that community colleges will play a greater role in training workers as part of the COVID-19 recovery effort.
âSo I’m going to ask the legislature to work with the Nevada System of Higher Education over the next two years to develop a framework that will transform Nevada’s community colleges into a new independent agency that will focus on preparing the work of Nevadans âHe said into the address.
In a March 26 statement to the Review Journal, NSHE Chancellor Melody Rose said the higher education system was “respectful of” the law.
“The financial cost of creating several new levels of government and administrative systems, some of which duplicate critical centralized services, will be a significant and unnecessary expense that our state cannot afford,” she said.
The law would also create academic hardship for students by separating two- and four-year universities, which would affect the transfer process, which saves students time and money, Rose said.
NSHE will continue to work with Sisolak to “accelerate our community college human resource development efforts,” she said.
The proposal to create a separate community college system has already been presented in the legislature. In 2017, however, all four community college presidents opposed it.
John Gwaltney, past president of Truckee Meadows Community College, is part of a group of six retired community college presidents in the state who are driving efforts and working with lawmakers.
The idea dates back to at least 2013, when a new state college funding formula was approved, he said.
“I hesitate to use the term ‘formula’ because it implies equity, and frankly there is none,” said Gwaltney.
Gwaltney claims that there is no data basis for the funding model and that government funds are being shifted disproportionately towards universities.
“This has created a number of difficulties for community colleges, making it more difficult for the most vulnerable students,” he said.
Gwaltney was President of Truckee Meadows Community College for nearly 10 years from 1986-1994 and has more than 20 years experience as President of Community College.
He said people who are critical of Nevada’s higher education system “have generally not been employed there very long,” and it is unrealistic to believe that the current presidents of community colleges publicly support efforts to create a separate community college system would.
In Nevada’s higher education system, you’re supposed to be a team player, he said.
“The rules are losing community colleges and you should accept that,” said Gwaltney.
There has long been a dispute between NSHE and state legislators. A 2015 review journal story – citing 2011 and 2012 emails received through a public request – detailed how higher education system officials tried to undermine legislature efforts to increase the funding formula to revise, including submitting an incorrect memo.
And more recently, Gwaltney’s publicly backed Ballot Question 1 was part of the November 2020 election calling for NSHE to be removed from the state’s constitution to give lawmakers more control. It just failed.