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Nevada State College president wants impact on students’ futures

Bart Patterson, who became president of Nevada State College in 2012, sees his role as “helping change family trees.” “Because we have so many first-generation college students, if they get established in a new professional career, it will have a lasting impact on their family tree, as well as helping the economic diversification of the valley,” he says. Nevada State College was established in 2002 as the state’s only four-year, comprehensive public college. It has grown from 177 students to more than 3,400 in the last graduating class. Although it offers 20 programs, 55 percent of degrees last year were in the high-demand fields of nursing and education.

Idaho native Patterson, whose parents were both schoolteachers, started out as an attorney and came to Southern Nevada in 2000 to work at a Las Vegas law firm. In 2001, he accepted a position in the general counsel’s office of the Nevada State Higher Education System, found his niche, and has worked in education ever since. Although he said it’s challenging to improve the quality of education while dealing with a modest budget and a rising student population, he enjoys helping students succeed. Shortly after becoming president, he was able to hand his daughter her diploma at NSC’s graduation ceremony, and another daughter recently completed the school’s post-baccalaureate program in speech pathology.

Does being an attorney help you in your current position?

Training for a legal career involves learning to think in logical ways, and to develop and pursue options, so I think that’s an advantage. But as college president, it’s much better for me to focus now on the broader vision — for the college, for our students, for economic diversification — rather than thinking about legal rulings. I’m perfectly happy to leave that to the lawyers who work for me.

What’s the biggest challenge you face as president of Nevada State College?

Increasing the success of our students. Ninety-five percent of them come from Southern Nevada, and 40 percent to 50 percent are first-generation college students. It’s a culturally diverse group, and 40 percent are from low-income families. The number of local students fitting this profile is increasing every year, so it’s important to the entire community that they be successful in higher education.

How are you coping with the rapid growth of the college?

We’re the fastest growing institution in Nevada, with 50 percent more students now than we had six years ago. Under the state’s new funding formula, we were able to get a budget increase, so we’re improving the student experience by constructing two new buildings on our main campus, adding an additional 80,000 square feet. We also want to increase the number of full-time faculty.

Do you have one main goal for the college’s future?

Our No. 1 goal is to retain our students from year to year once they enter college and to make sure they graduate. We do a good job of offering them a quality, moderate-cost education, but we have to do an even better job of helping them stay in school and get a degree. That’s where we’re going to focus our efforts and resources over the next five years.