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CSN students gear up for Carson City protest as worries about cuts mount

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Millicent Frehner, left, and Stephanie Fisher try to gain attention while College of Southern Nevada student Ana Aguilar signs a banner in protest proposed budget cuts Tuesday, March 15, 2011 at CSN’s Henderson campus.

CSN Budget Cuts

College of Southern Nevada students Justin McAffee, left, and Isaac Shalom protest proposed budget cuts Tuesday, March 15, 2011 at CSN's Henderson campus. Launch slideshow »

Map of College of Southern Nevada HS - South - Henderson HS

College of Southern Nevada HS - South - Henderson HS

700 College Drive, Henderson

Students at the College of Southern Nevada’s Henderson campus are sending a message to Carson City, inked with dozens of signatures on a bright yellow banner: Stop cutting education.

About a dozen CSN students set up a peaceful demonstration today in front of the school’s main entrance. They were collecting support from their peers, some of whom signed a large pennant that their student leaders will take to the Nevada Legislature on Monday as part of a planned “Road Trip” to petition against the governor's proposed higher education budget plan.

Students from UNLV, UNR, Nevada State College and other higher education institutions are planning to rally Monday in Carson City against the looming cuts.

It was a somewhat spontaneous gathering, not sponsored by any particular club or organization, instead arranged by Stephanie Fisher and Isaac Shalom, two of the campus’s 6,300 students.

Fisher, who will graduate in May with an associate’s degree before entering into a physician’s assistant program at Touro University, said since she enrolled at CSN in the fall of 2007, she’s “watched as they cut and cut and cut.”

“We’re tired of our best-case scenario being another tuition hike,” said Fisher, 29, a mother of two. “It’s getting old paying more and more for the same thing.”

After Gov. Brian Sandoval proposed that Nevada’s higher education system cut about $162 million in spending in the next two years, worry has spread about which programs could be slashed and whether campuses could be closed.

In February, CSN president Michael Richards said that, if the college were forced to shutter one of its locations, Henderson would be a likely candidate. About 15 percent of the school’s 44,000 students attend the campus at 700 College Drive.

At that point, Fisher and Shalom began discussing a demonstration to oppose the plans that were being considered. Fisher attended town hall meetings held around the valley, but she and Shalom decided their school needed its own venue to speak out.

Many of CSN’s pupils are “non-traditional” like herself, Fisher pointed out. They take one or two jobs to pay for school -- both Fisher and Shalom work part-time -- and they’re often commuters who have their own families.

More than half of the college’s students are 25 or older, and about 27 percent have reported being laid off in the last three years, according to CSN records.

Closing a campus or hiking tuition could put such students’ education in jeopardy, Fisher said.

CSN needs to cut about $27 million from its budget under Sandoval’s plan. Richards has suggested increasing student fees by 26 percent over the next two years as one way to close the gap, and reductions in financial aid are under consideration.

“It’s easy to see us as a bunch of numbers,” Fisher said. “But if you put a face to it, we hope that will give the lawmakers some pause … We’re making a statement, and this is an opportunity for people to raise their voice.”

Before they even stepped onto the concrete Tuesday, the demonstrators had won a small victory: the Board of Regents announced last week it would weather the cuts without closing campuses.

That checked one item off Fisher’s list: Save the Henderson campus. But tuition raises and cuts to programs or staff are still being considered.

“We don’t know how long we’re safe,” said Shalom, 23, who is studying hotel management. “We’re tired of being scared and threatened. Now we have a sign full of people that have something they believe in. It’s our time to be heard.”

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