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November 28, 2014

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EDITORIAL:

It’s time for state colleges to get some control

In the wake of the Great Recession, the federal government tried to boost employment by funneling money to community colleges, which were supposed to tailor plans to retrain people and get them back to work.

Nevada was a shoo-in — or should have been. The first round of funding was in 2011, when Nevada had a 13.2 percent unemployment rate. But over the past three years, Nevada has received just $14 million from the program.

NEVADA

Total TAACCCT award: $14 million

Average yearly population from 2011-13: 2,754,144

2011 unemployment rate: 13.2%

2011 grant: $2.7 million

2012 unemployment rate: 11.5%

2012 grant: $2.5 million

2013 unemployment rate: 9.8%

2013 grant: $8.8 million

KANSAS

Total TAACCCT award: $34.1 million

Average population from 2011-13: 2,882,968

2011 unemployment rate: 5.4%

2011 grant: $19.6 million

2012 unemployment rate: 5.8%

2012 grant: $11.8 million

2013 unemployment rate: 6.5%

2013 grant:$2.7 million

ARKANSAS

Total TAACCCT award: $29 million

Average population from 2011-13: 2,949,236

2011 unemployment rate: 8%

2011 grant: $16 million

2012 unemployment rate: 7.5%

2012 grant: $2.5 million

2013 unemployment rate: 7.5%

2013 grant: $10.5 million

Kansas, with a slightly larger population, has gotten $34.1 million over the same time, even though its unemployment rate was about half of Nevada’s.

Nevada’s failure to gain more grants shows a serious flaw in the way the state governs higher education.

The underlying problem

Unlike other states that leave control of community colleges to the communities they serve, Nevada’s four community colleges are run by the Nevada System of Higher Education, which also oversees two universities, a four-year college and a research institution.

In a letter this year to a legislative committee, John Gwaltney and Carol Lucey, both retired Nevada community college presidents, wrote, “The (community) colleges are generally neglected, even if inadvertently, because the governance business of the universities is so all-consuming.”

Not a priority

When the training grants were unveiled, they seemed made for Nevada. Nevada had the highest unemployment rate in the nation, and the community colleges were positioned to help. But the grants became just another item on a long list for NSHE’s bureaucracy.

When asked about the grants, Chancellor Dan Klaich has lamented the system’s lack of grant writers. Instead of aggressively pursuing the grants, he and NSHE worked on overhauling the state’s funding formula for higher education.

Where’s the community?

In 2012, the College of Southern Nevada won $2.5 million to train workers to become building superintendents. That’s a fine idea, but why not work with the local high-tech community to build a 21st century workforce? Or partner with the hospitals and medical community? Why not try them all?

In an apparent move to improve its chances to win a grant, the state submitted only one application a year. Meanwhile, other states tried the shotgun approach and were rewarded. West Virginia submitted 11 proposals and won $34 million.

The bottom line

The real issue is control. Is it better for the NSHE bureaucracy or a community to decide what’s best for community colleges? We think it’s obvious.

But NSHE doesn’t want to give up control, and the Legislature has balked at plans to give community colleges more autonomy. Lawmakers should see what a mistake that is, as evidenced by the state’s failure to capitalize on the job-training grants.

Nevada needs innovation and creativity, and it should trust the people who know their communities the best with the authority to run their community colleges.

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