Higher education, lower population
For many Nevadans, the term “higher education” is exclusively characterized by a university rivalry between the two big campuses. When the general elections conclude on Nov. 6, either Ron Knecht or Michon Mackedon, candidates for the Nevada Board of Regents in District 9, will have to represent higher education for Nevada’s more rural communities distant from the big campuses.
The 13-member Nevada Board of Regents sets policies and approves budgets for Nevada’s entire public system of higher education, which includes four community colleges, one state college, two universities and one research institute. The district 9 regent represents the Lake Tahoe area of Carson City, Douglas County, Lyon County, Storey County, and southern Washoe County.
“For region nine, I don’t think there’s any question that the number one issue is the funding formula and how it will allow rural community colleges to operate,” said Fallon native Mackedon, a professor emeritus at Western Nevada College.
Mackedon—author of the 2010 book Bombast, on nuclear testing in Nevada—said she approves of a new funding formula proposed by the board. According to Chancellor Dan Klaich, the new formula was created to focus on student success rather than student enrollment, allocating funding based on course completions and graduating students rather than by raw enrollment numbers.
“This new funding formula proposed by the chancellor, Dan Klaich, is an opportunity to address more than just the funding formula itself, it might be an opportunity to stabilize what we might call the ground floor, or budget A,” she said.
Mackedon said the old funding formula created a “climate of instability” among Nevada’s community colleges as they waited for the legislature to approve a budget every two years. The new formula, she said, establishes a fixed base budget for core curriculum—a “ground floor,” she calls it.
“You don’t have this juggling of resources every two years,” Mackedon said.
Incumbent Ron Knecht, an economist and former one-term state legislator, sees problems with the new formula. He was the only regent on a board of 13 to cast a dissenting vote. He said northern community colleges are unfairly disadvantaged by the new formula.
“All of us should be statewide regents looking out for the broad public interest, not having parochial interests, not being the regent from UNR or UNLV,” he said. “On the other hand, one of the things I’ve observed is that we’re not doing a very good job with our community colleges, and I’ve become almost the community college regent,” said Knecht.
The matrix used to allocate funding dollars is, he said, a disadvantage for northern community colleges such as Western Nevada College and Great Basin College by placing greater value on high-brow academia. According to the matrix, a doctoral course in agriculture is assigned a value of 8, while a lower division course in agriculture is only valued at 2. Doctoral and master’s courses, not commonly found in community colleges, are therefore given much higher levels of funding.
According to a Sept. 17 article by the Associated Press, the new formula has drastic implications in Northern Nevada, cutting deeply from the budgets of community colleges. Great Basin College in Elko would receive only $9.5 million, compared to the $14 million it received in the previous fiscal year. Truckee Meadows Community College would receive $27.7 million, down from $30.6 million. Western Nevada College would receive $10.5 million, down from $15 million.
“If reelected I will continue that fight to make sure that we don’t tell people in our small towns and rural areas that opportunity has passed them by, that they have to go to either Reno or Vegas to get any kind of education,” Knecht said.
Knecht proposes the board create distance education programs to aid collegiate learning in rural Nevada.
“I think we can preserve the community colleges in the rural and small town campuses by focusing on distance ed measures,” Knecht said. “If there’s a particular subject that a state is very strong in, students from Nevada should be able to take that course online.”