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October 20, 2014

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LOOKING IN ON: HIGHER EDUCATION:

UNLV nursing student earns one of state’s first Ph.D.s in field

When Lara Carver graduates from UNLV on Saturday, the 37-year-old will be one of the first two students to earn a Ph.D. in nursing from a Nevada university.

UNLV officials launched a nursing doctoral program, the only one in the state, in 2004, hoping to help ease a local and national shortage of nurse educators. A dearth of teachers is one reason that, year after year, nursing programs across the country turn away qualified students.

Carver is already serving as nursing director of the new Henderson branch of National University, a private, nonprofit school based in San Diego. Her program offers an associate’s degree in nursing and is to enroll its first students, up to 16 of them, in July.

“I can have a bigger impact on more patients and people by being an educator,” said Carver, a former intensive care nurse and Clark County School District nurse.

Though UNLV has touted its new program as a way to help solve the state’s nurse shortage, half of the school’s 26 nursing doctoral candidates do not live in Nevada. The program is almost entirely online.

But Lori Candela, a UNLV nursing professor, said improved nurse education nationwide benefits Nevada. Nurses trained outside Nevada might later move here.

“Because there are jobs virtually everywhere for nurses and pretty much for nurse faculty too, nurses can kind of tend to be a more mobile group,” Candela said. “So for us, we look at it more from a national perspective.”

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It was a demonstration of how quickly budget cuts can nip dreams and plans for growth.

In a Wednesday morning interview, reflecting on his hopes for the College of Southern Nevada, the school’s new president, Michael Richards, said the college could look to launch bachelor’s degree programs in “niche fields” over the next few years.

But on Thursday morning, after state officials asked public agencies to prepare for big cuts to anticipated budgets in the next biennium, Richards revised his ambitions. He said expansion plans would be contingent on having resources, “and given the current budget climate, that looks highly unlikely.”

The only bachelor’s degree CSN offers is in dental hygiene, and the college is the only public school in the state to offer that credential.

In areas such as cardiorespiratory sciences, associate degree students complete so many courses that they could earn a bachelor’s degree by putting in another year or so of work — if only a college in Nevada offered the appropriate four-year degree. If the budget permits, and with regents’ approval, CSN could look to fill the gap in these fields, Richards said.

•••

Two years before a self-imposed deadline, the CSN Foundation managed to raise a $1 million scholarship endowment through annual dinners.

Meeting that target, foundation Executive Director Jacque Matthews said, is just one step the college is taking to bolster fundraising in light of the “continuing trend that there’s less public money to fund public institutions.”

Foundation officials hope to solicit more “naming gifts,” Matthews said. In these deals, colleges name whole buildings, classrooms and other facilities after major donors.

Also new is a focus on planned giving, in which philanthropists agree to bequeath estates or other assets to an organization.

Over the past five years, the CSN Foundation has raised more than $9.6 million. But that figure pales next to the amount UNLV has raised through single donations such as a $30 million gift from the Harrah’s Foundation announced last fall.

Community colleges often struggle in fundraising because they lack the prestige major universities carry. In Las Vegas, UNLV has the advantage of being older and more experienced at fundraising.

Bill Boldt, vice president of advancement for UNLV, said because loyalty is tied to the length of time a student spends at an institution, colleges that grant associate degrees can find it difficult to gain broad alumni support. Community colleges must battle the perception that they can thrive with only state money, he said.

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