Las Vegas Sun

October 31, 2014

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HIGHER EDUCATION:

In limbo: Status of ‘save our satellite’ pleas to CSN

When the College of Southern Nevada announced plans last summer to close six learning centers in mid-2009 to save money, the decision sounded concrete.

This month, however, spokeswoman K.C. Brekken said the school was “working diligently with community leaders, other institutions and CSN staff” to find ways to keep as many sites open as possible. More details on those efforts would not be available, she said, until rescue plans were “closer to finalization” and the college knew more about its future budget.

The communities of Boulder City, Lincoln County and the Moapa Valley, whose centers are slated for closure along with three in Las Vegas, have had varying degrees of success in negotiating with higher education officials to preserve their CSN satellites.

Bonni Smith, who runs the college’s Lincoln County office in Caliente, 150 miles from Las Vegas, said administrators have shown little interest in discussing ways to keep her center alive. A CSN worker recently visited to take inventory, Smith said, “so they can plan what size truck to come and get everything.”

In November, Smith

e-mailed CSN president Dr. Michael Richards and Joan McGee, executive director of CSN’s learning centers, to propose cutting at least $10,600 a year from her site’s budget in part by reducing her hours to 32 a week. CSN estimates it will save about $77,000 a year by shutting down the Lincoln County location, where students sign up for courses, take placement exams and get help with financial aid.

Richards responded to Smith’s message, saying that after the December meeting of the higher education system’s Board of Regents, “we’ll discuss your ideas and perhaps some programming shifts that might help. We’ll include Joan in the conversation, and then we’ll get back to you. No promises, but we’re always optimistic.”

Since then, Smith said she has heard nothing from the college regarding her proposal. This week, however, Brekken said that while Smith’s suggestion was generous and courageous, it was also premature.

Without knowing more about the college’s future finances, “it would be impossible to say whether a $10,600 salary savings could make an impact — let alone what the contractual implications would be and the symbolic aspect of partially funding a satellite with low enrollment if it ends up being at the expense of a program involving hundreds of students,” Brekken said.

In a January letter to the mayor of Caliente, Richards noted that Lincoln County had nine students enrolled in a college English course and 36 in distance education classes.

CSN officials say maintaining access to higher education for all Southern Nevadans is an integral part of the college’s mission. But until the Legislature allocates money for the next biennium, the school’s budget will be in limbo and, along with it, the future of higher education in parts of Southern Nevada.

Like Smith, Andrea Anderson, a Boulder City councilwoman who runs the CSN center in her town, said she had not heard of any serious discussions about keeping her site open. She said she has asked the college for information about the operational costs of the Boulder City site, but has not received a response. Hundreds of students attend classes there each semester.

The center’s rent is only a $1 a year, courtesy of the family foundation tied to Bill Smith, a Boulder City Council candidate and former city councilman, who said Richards has committed to discussing CSN’s Boulder City operation with him before cementing its fate. Smith thinks locals would chip in to keep the school in town.

In the Moapa Valley, residents have reason to be hopeful. Last year administrators in Las Vegas did not consult with the local community or visit the site in Logandale before announcing plans to shut it down. So the Moapa Valley fought back.

Members of the community, including April Krell, who manages the Logandale center, met in January with Richards and Dan Klaich, the higher education system’s executive vice chancellor, to make their case for keeping CSN in their region. Krell said the president has expressed interest in continuing to hold classes in the area even if the college cannot pay a full-time administrator — Krell — to work there.

The Logandale center offers courses that fit into students’ regular high school schedules. More than 80 teenagers signed up this spring for the program, compared with 25 at the same time last year. They are getting high school and college credit to take classes in areas including business, English and math.

Klaich said though he made no promises to Krell or her companions, their presentation made a strong impression. It appears, he said, that they’ve cultivated “a small oasis of higher education out in Moapa Valley.”

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