Sebring Frehner spent some time studying at UNLV and the community college and didn't find what he was looking for. He never felt connected to either place.
He'd heard about Nevada State College. It was tiny, only a few hundred students. It was housed entirely in a remodeled vitamin warehouse at the edge of nowhere.
He went to visit the boxy warehouse, down a two-lane road in the deserted land between Henderson and Boulder City. He figured a visit couldn't hurt.
He liked what he saw. He signed up.
Wow, he thought. This place is awesome. Small classes, lots of attention from the professors, as much help with financial aid and the rest of the paperwork as he could have ever hoped for.
So what if they didn't have a real building? So what if there weren't any star professors? So what if it was brand new and wasn't even accredited yet, operating under the umbrella of the University of Nevada, Reno's accreditation? So what if the president's office and the receptionist's desk and the public restrooms were so close together you could almost touch all three at the same time?
That wasn't what mattered.
"The quality of the learning experience was addictive," Frehner said last week. "It was addictive."
Frehner, 33, is now the president of Nevada State's student body. He is a bold and outspoken advocate for the school, which has been the fastest growing college in Nevada since its inception nine years ago.
The college opened with 177 students in 2002. Last fall, just shy of 3,000 were enrolled.
Nevada State, positioned as a four-year teaching college that serves a niche between the 2-year community college and the research universities, has needed fierce advocates for much of its history.
Like the rest of the state's higher education institutions, the college has undergone budget cuts over the last several years.
But the advocacy has worked.
The school's first permanent building, a state-of-the-art Liberal Arts and Sciences building, opened in 2008.
It has graduated more than 1,300 students.
It survived talk this past legislative session of consolidating it with another institution to save money.
It has produced a master plan that calls for buildings to cover most of its 500-acre campus, with capacity for as many as 25,000 students.
And, this month, after nine years, the college was officially awarded accreditation. It can finally stand on its own.
"It's essentially a seal of approval on the quality of the education we offer," said Erika Beck, the provost. "And it's given by our peers."
Any college or university worth going to must be accredited. Nevada's institutions are accredited by the Northwest Commission on College and Universities. Without accreditation, students cannot get federal financial aid. That is important, especially at Nevada State. Almost half the students there are first-generation college students, half are minorities, and the average income of an NSC student is below $20,000.
But more than that, accreditation means a college is doing things in the correct way.
It means the faculty are qualified. It means the budget is in order and the facilities are appropriate and it is run in generally the same way the rest of the nation's colleges are run.
In short, it means its students are learning what they are supposed to be learning.
"It further strengthens who we are," said Gregory Robinson, an English professor and past chairman of the Faculty Senate. "It makes us a stronger, independent institution."
The college was notified last week that its accreditation had been approved, though the commission made it retroactive to Sept. 1, 2010. That is typical.
It was one step in a journey that took several years, including campus visits by the accrediting agency. Those visits included scores of interviews with administrators, faculty and students. The accrediting committee members even reviewed student coursework to be sure it measured up to standards.
The commission made a point to commend the college in six areas, including overall scholarship, commitment to its mission, efficiency in times of budget cuts, self assessment, quality faculty and the design of the Liberal Arts and Sciences building.
Dan Klaich, the state's higher education system chancellor, wrote a congratulatory note to Lesley Di Mare, NSC's president.
"This accreditation is the culmination of what a decade ago was only a dream and you all have made it happen," he wrote. " I know that a successful accreditation visit is an enormous undertaking and I deeply appreciate all of your work on this project. Be proud of yourselves."
Di Mare, president since last year and provost before that, said the event is a milestone, but it is not an ending.
There will be follow-up visits and reports over the next several years to be sure Nevada State keeps on mission and keeps trying to improve.
"We're really building some momentum out there," said Glenn Christenson, chairman of the NSC Foundation, who also is a former casino executive and chairman of the Nevada Development Authority. "Accreditation was the next step."
Beck, the provost, said Nevada State has always been a close-knit place.
She should know. She's been there since the beginning, hired in 2002 as a psychology professor.
"When we were in a refurbished vitamin warehouse, to the new building and every bump along the way, this is a very proud campus," she said.
Contact reporter Richard Lake at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0307.