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December 18, 2014

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Education alliance ends in divorce

College dissolving partnership with high school, saying students overwhelmed resources

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Sam Morris

From left, Nevada State High School students Grace Cadavona, Frederick Almeda and Jacqueline Vivanco hit the books Thursday. Students typically must earn a minimum 2.0 grade-point average in past high school work to be admitted into the charter, whose mission is to prepare its students for college.

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Nevada State High School instructor Nathan Bassing helps student Anthony Romero with paperwork Thursday in their Henderson classroom. Many NSHS students have taken classes at Nevada State College, but that partnership is being dissolved.

Between classes at Nevada State College, flocks of high school students taking college courses used to congregate in the “Great Hall,” a high-ceilinged room with bean bags and computers that doubled as the campus study lounge and social gathering spot.

Older students muttered that some of the teens made too much noise, playing loud music and yelling to get friends’ attention. Because of an arrangement with Nevada State High School, so many high schoolers were enrolled at the college that they outnumbered college students in some classes.

These days, however, fewer high school students can be found on campus. The college has begun scaling back its partnership with the state-sponsored charter school, whose students filled their junior and senior year schedules primarily with Nevada State College classes.

The collaboration has been a success for the 5-year-old high school, which boasts a 99 percent graduation rate and state recognition as a high-achieving school.

But in August college President Fred Maryanski gave the high school a year’s notice that the college was terminating an agreement to allow the high school to use some college equipment and facilities for free.

College spokesman Spencer Stewart said starting in the fall, new students at Nevada State High School will be allowed to take only six credits — two typical classes — at the college each semester.

The college has created confusion in recent weeks by providing conflicting information regarding future enrollment of high school students. John Hawk, the high school’s executive director, said the college registrar’s office recently said his juniors would no longer be allowed to enroll. On Tuesday, however, Stewart said the college would continue to welcome the juniors.

Nevada State High School enrolls juniors and seniors who complete their first years of high school elsewhere. Attendees get high school and college credit for taking college courses, with the high school covering tuition and textbook costs.

By 2008 about 200 Nevada State High School students were attending classes at Nevada State College, which had just over 2,000 students at the time, Maryanski said.

Some professors described the high school students as polite and said they enjoyed working with the brightest of those students. But some instructors disliked teaching classes with large high school enrollments. Many of the teens needed introductory courses that were not otherwise in high demand because most incoming Nevada State College students are transfers who have spent time at other higher education institutions.

“Nevada State High School grew to a point where it simply was numerically impossible to have all of the high school students enrolled in classes in which the predominance of students were college students,” Maryanski said. “There were just too many high school students needing those introductory courses.

“Many of the faculty members involved in teaching those courses were concerned ... They came here to teach college students, college-age students, in a class that felt like a college class,” Maryanski said.

Andy Kuniyuki, associate dean of liberal arts and sciences, said in some courses with heavy high school enrollment, misbehaving pupils became a distraction, forcing faculty members to devote time to classroom management.

Last year the college offered a solution: It would create a series of college-level courses that only high schoolers would take, and assign those classes to faculty members interested in teaching them. Enrollment of high schoolers in other sections would be limited.

But the high school’s charter says, in essence, that it must provide students with a “real college experience” — real college courses, real college professors, Hawk said. Nevada State College’s proposal would treat the high school’s students differently from typical college students.

Hawk said he proposed that the high school and college work on “a collaborative plan that could include following the process for amending the high school’s charter.” Then the high school received Maryanski’s letter terminating the agreement between the institutions, Hawk said.

Today, the college serves about 50 Nevada State High School students, Maryanski said.

Hawk said because the college indicated it would limit high school enrollment in most courses, many of his students now take classes at other higher education institutions. Nevada State High School attendees come from across the Las Vegas Valley, and some live closer to the College of Southern Nevada and UNLV than to Nevada State College.

“Our mission is to successfully transition high school students to college, and we’re going to continue operating that way,” Hawk said.

Hawk said he hopes his students will continue having the opportunity to take classes at Nevada State College. He noted that his school has not received any complaints from the college about individual student behavior.

The high school admits applicants who meet multiple requirements, typically including earning a 2.0 grade-point average in past high school coursework. Attendees must take a study skills class and complete a two-week summer course introducing them to college.

Nevada State College psychology students Chelsea Fagin and Tanja Lakic said they were disappointed to hear that the formal partnership between the college and high school had ended.

The two met a few years ago in an English class when Fagin was a college freshman and Lakic was a Nevada State High School senior.

Fagin said she wished she had known about the high school program when she was younger. To pay for her education now, she takes out loans and works part-time as floor supervisor at a clothing store. Completing college classes in high school would have cut down on her expenses.

Fagin said though she heard fellow college students complaining about high schoolers on campus, “I never had a problem with those people, because I thought they were trying to better their education.”

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