Three newcomers to the Nevada Board of Regents will be entering higher education governance at a time when the state’s public colleges are more heavily focused on student outcomes and achievement.
There are four open seats on the board in the Nov. 6 election, with one incumbent running uncontested in a northern district, while three other seats are being left vacant by departing board members. Donald Sylvantee McMichael has no opponent for the District 4 seat in Las Vegas.
The newcomers will be tasked, along with the remainder of the board, on measuring the progress of the state’s seven public colleges against five strategic goals adopted earlier this year. They include raising graduation rates, increasing access to higher education for Nevadans, and closing the achievement gap.
They’ll also be entering at a time when the board will probably be in the throes of a search for a new UNLV president.
That was a motivating factor behind Andrew Coates’ run for the District 12 seat, which is being vacated by longtime board member Andrea Anderson.
“I’m very concerned about the future of UNLV, particularly with regards to the presidential search process and that’s something I want to be a part of,” Coates, a UNLV law school alumni, said. “I want to be a link between the alumni community and the Board of Regents — to gain their input and voice their concerns and recommendations.”
Coates, who lost his bid for a state Assembly seat in 2014, is running against political newcomer Amy Carvalho, a business owner in Boulder City, who said that Anderson asked her to run.
In March, former UNLV President Len Jessup announced that he was job hunting — about two months after he received an evaluation that detailed “several weaknesses” in his performance. Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Thom Reilly also became concerned, and sought an outside legal opinion, after he learned that Jessup signed a donation agreement with the Engelstad Family Foundation requiring him to remain in his position as president through 2022.
“We need to be careful in the future that fundraising doesn’t come with a lot of strings attached,” Carvalho said, adding that funding for the medical school should be a board priority. “All institutions nationwide are struggling with how do donors participate in the goals of the university while also funding them?”
Coates believes that finding a strong president is the most influential factor in the success of a university campus, yet he said he’s not a “one-issue regent” candidate.
He said he also wants to fight to lock-in tuition rates for entering college students and protect community college vocational and apprenticeship programs.
Jo Cato, who’s running against Laura Perkins for the District 1 seat, which is occupied by appointee Anthony Williams, believes apprenticeship programs are crucial, especially for low-income students.
“If they can earn while studying, it’s a big incentive for getting that population to go to college,” Cato said. “We need to work diligently to improve our workforce development for in-demand occupations.”
Perkins said it should be a board priority to strengthen “symbiotic” relationships between business and education. She also wants to see the board increase online program offerings and improve partnerships with the state’s veteran population.
“By the time you become a sergeant, you’ve taken so many leadership classes,” Perkins said. “Some of those classes should be evaluated to see where they can plug into the university credit program.”
If elected, Perkins wants to travel to New York University to gain insight into how the university has been able to implement a free tuition program, regardless of need, for its medical students.
“I want to talk with them earnestly to find out what they did and how they did it, and if it can work in our valley,” Perkins said.
Cato believes it’s important to provide additional resources to the universities so that they can raise their research profiles. She would also like to see institutions increase the number of doctoral degrees that are conferred.
And increasing overall funding for higher education and making it more affordable for Nevada’s students appeared to be an important priority for all of the candidates.
“I don’t want to see a tuition increase — that’s something I’ll work hard to keep in check,” Carvalho said.
Coates said supporting a measure to lock in tuition rates will help to increase graduation rates because students won’t be budgeted out of their degrees.
“They’ll know what to expect,” he said.
The candidates also weighed in on previous efforts to change the makeup of the state Board of Regents. For example, one legislative effort last year called for community colleges to be given their own governing board. Another provision, which goes before the Legislature again in 2019, calls for the board to be taken out of the state constitution.
Perkins said she does not support separating the community colleges from the other schools in NSHE because it would pit two “silos” against each other and decrease communication.
“A split is a bad idea … because you’d have the community colleges and universities battling for the same dollars,” she said. “I believe in having all eight entities under the same umbrella.”
Coates shared similar views, and said that the board should be half elected and half appointed.
“The main thing is that we need to be a part of the reform process,” Coates said. “And not draw a line in the sand, but come to the table.”
Carvalho, too, is supportive of a hybrid approach, which she said is a “healthy model.” She also wants to see all eight institutions remain under the same governance structure.
“It’s important to keep the community colleges with the other institutions so there’s that continuity of education,” she said. “The ones that want to go on and transition to the four-year institution, would hopefully be seamless.”