Realizing it can no longer try to be all things to all students in an economy still in free-fall, Nevada State College will place a greater priority on students who have declared a major and have mapped out a "clear academic path" to a degree.
For the roughly 500 students out of 3,100 at the Henderson campus whose major is undeclared or who take just a class or two for personal enrichment or other reasons, finding a seat in a classroom might prove difficult, and that expectation probably will spread to every higher education institution in the state.
"I think you’ll see enrollment restructuring take place everywhere else" in the Nevada System of Higher Education, said Spencer Stewart, the college’s associate vice president of college relations. "The economy is fragile … and we have to figure out how to do business differently."
Dan Klaich, chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education, roughly two weeks ago presented lawmakers with a four-point plan framed by the economic challenges the state faces.
"The reality is, the system has lost funding and will continue to lose funding," Stewart said. "We can’t guarantee spots in our universities or colleges anymore, and so priority will be given to students who are serious about their education."
About 110,000 students are enrolled in the system, which includes eight institutions across the state. In the south are Nevada State College, the College of Southern Nevada and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas; with the University of Nevada, Reno and Western Nevada College in the north. Great Basin College in Elko has satellite campuses that stretch all the way to Pahrump.
But the higher education system has seen its budget, which represents about 15 percent of the state’s general fund, cut by 20 percent in recent years, a reduction that effectively has capped enrollment and stunted growth of the student body, according to Klaich in comments he made to lawmakers April 22.
"The hope is we will still grow with less state funding support," said Stewart, "but with committed, qualified students."
Stewart said he understands not everybody who goes to college is in pursuit of a degree, but the economy has tied the system’s hands.
"It’s difficult to be all things to all people," he said. "Just as Governor (Brian) Sandoval said in his televised speech (Tuesday) night, we have to reduce the amount of services we offer to people accustomed to those services. It’s a painful decision, and it’s all about living within one’s means."
Stewart said the decision will force students to make their own painful decisions. For both educators and students, the economy, he said, requires a more focused approach to what is offered and who is served.
Stewart made it clear undeclared applicants won’t be denied admission outright, but that could be the de facto result.
"That segment of the student population needs to determine what their academic goals are," he said. "Those students who have mapped out a clear academic path are who the system needs to focus on."
Those that haven’t declared, on the other hand, take "seat time" away from the committed student population, he said.
And with no money to increase and expand classes and the list of majors students can pursue, those students who have declared a major are not guaranteed a slot "even if they meet all minimum requirements," Stewart said.
Nevada State College offers 35 degrees, but the school’s biggest draws are its nursing and teaching programs.
Klaich in his comments to the Legislature last month said the system anticipates a drop in enrollment of more than 15 percent over the next two years because of program elimination, layoffs, site closures and increased fees, among other issues.
To put a hard number on it, he said more than 20,000 qualified students will be turned away. These are "students who will either leave to attend postsecondary institutions in other states and likely not to return to Nevada or who will never go to college."
Neither Klaich nor Stewart thinks the Nevada System of Higher Education should avoid the pain of budget cuts that have swept the state in recent years, but the chancellor told lawmakers that priority registration similar to what Nevada State College has implemented will only help so much.
"The underlying reality is that we will be turning Nevadans away. We simply cannot serve everyone at this level of cuts with any promise of quality."
Contact Doug McMurdo at dmcmurdo@ reviewjournal.com or 702-224-5512.