What is a Regent?
The Nevada State Constitution empowers the people to elect the Nevada State Board of Regents. The Board is responsible for governing the state’s system of higher education – its universities, state college, community colleges and the Desert Research Institute.
Elected to 6-year terms, the 13 Regents set policies, hire key leaders, approve budgets and advocate for the Nevada System of Higher Education.
The Beatles taught us that money can’t buy us love. Money can, however, buy inspiring professors, world-class researchers, life-changing education and a healthier community and economy.
COVID has wreaked havoc on many parts of our society. The Nevada System of Higher Education was certainly front and center in absorbing its share of fiscal pain. The governor’s budget during the 2021 session called for a 12% budget cut. Even after a one-time infusion of federal COVID relief dollars, higher education absorbed approximately $76 million in cuts to operations.
The cuts have resulted in hiring freezes on our campuses, the threat of layoffs and the elimination or reduction of merit and cost-of-living adjustments. Additional cuts to the Nevada Public Employees’ Benefits Program (PEBP) have also led to the elimination of long-term disability insurance, reduced life insurance benefits and a reduction in Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA) contributions.
The Regents need to work hand-in-hand with the Chancellor, Governor, Legislature, system presidents and other stakeholders to ensure that our university and college budgets are fully funded. Team leaders need to step up to work together to reinforce the critical importance our higher education system plays in the lives and economy of all Nevadans.
Students and The Money
Nevada’s higher education system serves more than 106,000 students throughout the state. These students pay for approximately 40% of the system’s operating budget, primarily through registration fees and non-resident tuition.
From 2002/03 to 2018/19, course registration fees have nearly tripled for university undergraduates. Overall inflation has increased in that same period by just 42%.*
Escalating costs have left many students with unmanageable debt, and even deterred many qualified, capable students from pursuing higher education at all. It has also led to a national debate about student loans and the cost of higher education in general.
Student fees are a critical piece of our higher education budget. The Board of Regents must work diligently, however, to ensure state funding is robust, so as to mitigate the impact of future cost increases on student budgets.
We must also have a laser-sharp focus on the system budget, strive for more federal student aid on our campuses, build-up our foundations with a goal of providing more scholarship dollars, and work with Nevada businesses to enhance their support of higher education.
*US Bureau of Labor Statistics CPI Inflation Calculator
First Generation College Students
I have a special place in my heart for first generation college-going students.
My wife’s father and mother left school after the 8th and 5th grades. They could not even form an image of a college campus, let alone provide any support or encouragement for attending college. All her mother could do was hand her a $10 bill when she boarded her bus to leave home.
A few years and four college degrees later, Rita is my shining example of why we need to lift up and support capable students who want to improve themselves and their communities by pursuing a higher education.
I grew up in a home with two college graduate parents. Our culture was that my brother and I would simply, seamlessly move on into college. Our parents guided us to the right high school courses, met with our academic counselors, encouraged extra-curricular activities and even helped negotiate the bewildering web of financial aid forms.
Many students and parents, some likely within a few blocks of our homes, know nothing of these things. These families don’t need a hand-out. They do need encouragement, guidance and a hand-up. We can not afford to let talented, motivated students lose the opportunity to further their education simply because their families don’t know how to navigate the system.
With that as our motivation, Rita and I are supporters and cheerleaders for the Dean’s Future Scholars program at UNR. The program is designed to help first generation/low-income students and their families, as early as 6th grade, build a pathway to higher education. We also started a scholarship at UNR focused on helping first generation students realize their dreams.
Hope, not Fear
Let’s be honest. Today, there are many challenges facing Nevada’s higher education system.
COVID has altered the landscape for in-person learning, dramatically driven down enrollment on campuses statewide, and wreaked havoc with state, campus and student budgets.
Communication, cooperation and understanding within the higher education system has ebbed, and a working relationship with the legislature and governor wants for improvement.
The Chancellor has just resigned amid some public turmoil. A nationwide search will bring a new person to the position and a time of transition, acclimation and training will follow.
Communities are pleading for more health care professionals, welders, mechanics and technicians, teachers, engineers and scientists, accountants, HVAC professionals, construction experts, and the list goes on.
From these challenges, there must rise great solutions. We are the keepers of world-class education institutions. I know the Northern Nevada I’ve called home for nearly 40 years is a community of people who are willing to roll-up their sleeves, get involved and get the hard work done.
None of today’s issues will deter us from finding ways to bring the best and brightest students and teachers back to our campuses. We will work together within the system, and with others in state government to continue to build and fund higher education. We will find and employ the best leaders for our colleges and universities — people who buy into a set of common goals and work together for their achievement. We will engage the community and respond to their needs.
Spotlight our community colleges
Our community colleges open the door to so many different opportunities for our students.
Traditional students can find a welcoming home to earn college credits, certificates, or an associate degree on their way to matriculating to a 4-year college or university.
Within the Nevada System of Higher Education, transferring core college credits has become more transparent and efficient, thanks to changes approved by the Board of Regents, and the work done by faculty and staff.
Sometimes, transferring isn’t even necessary as this new generation of community colleges now offers many 4-year bachelor’s degree programs.
We must also recognize that not every student wants or needs to pursue a traditional 4-year college degree. As a community, we need to the spotlight the students, faculty and staff engaged in education focused on workforce development.
Skill certificates in highly sought-after fields can be earned in as few as three courses. Students can then build, or “stack”, their skills and credits into certificates of achievement and, if they choose, continue their education by pursuing an associate or bachelor’s degree from a community college.
These Career and Technical Education (CTE) pathways are critical to our state’s economy. They provide our communities with welders, mechanics, medical technicians, culinary artists, dental assistants, and much, much more. Many of these students will enter well-paying, in-demand jobs with the skills to build successful careers.
Many of these CTE tracks require specialized knowledge to teach, and expensive labs to equip. Within the Nevada System of Higher Education, and throughout the community, we need to recognize the unique needs and benefits of these education pathways.
Add in dual-credit programs, such as TMCC High School, adult education and community courses, high school equivalency and GED programs, emergency medical services, fire academies, ESL classes, and the list goes on…then one starts to understand how many lives community colleges touch every year.
I spent my career in the financial services industry. If any one thing is certain, any good investor wants a return on their investment.
Nevada’s system of higher education is no different.
Students expect to learn from knowledgeable, caring professors and professionals. They deserve to have cutting-edge knowledge passed down to their generation, so they can use it in new, creative and productive ways.
Many of our faculty and staff have dedicated their careers and lives to higher education. Their investment can often be measured in blood, sweat and tears (many are those of joy!). Of course, enrolling, teaching, encouraging and graduating our students is the primary reward of their work. They also deserve a safe working environment, competitive wages and benefits and a chance to grow in their own careers.
The taxpayers of Nevada want to see graduating students stay at home, enter the workforce, provide needed expertise, skill and energy in our communities, and be responsible citizens, parents and partners.
In listening to business leaders in Nevada, I find they invariably want at least these three traits from our graduates: outstanding communication skills, applied critical thinking capabilities and a steadfast work ethic. These necessary characteristics cut across all industries at all times. In addition, so many of our professions and trades today demand that extra layer of career specific knowledge upon which graduates and their employers can build. Higher education is uniquely positioned to help cultivate these characteristics, and teach the requisite skills and knowledge.
These are the investment returns expected by the stakeholders of our higher education system. It’s my goal to deliver them.
Two Ears, One Mouth.
We need to use them in proportion.
Something that has become even more obvious as I’ve grown older is that oftentimes others know more than I do. My job is to learn from them.
As a new leader within the Nevada System of Higher Education, I will listen, listen and listen again to what the system’s stakeholders have to share. I am a strong believer that if someone has an opinion to express, or knowledge to share, it is my responsibility to listen and learn.
Whenever possible, I like to find consensus with decision makers, as it is the best way to move forward together in the realization of organizational goals. That does not mean, however, I that won’t form my own opinions and promote them passionately. There are times when using the One Mouth becomes primary in pursuing the best outcomes. However, I promise that my opinions will always be guided by facts and realities over emotions and whims.