Editorial Sept 2018

February 20th, 2019

“Student Access Without Success Means No Opportunity”
Chancellor Thom Reilly
Nevada System of Higher Education

Nevada’s eight public higher education institutions are open access. Anyone can attend our community colleges and if you meet minimum qualifications, anyone can attend our state college and universities. I am proud of this open access. It underscores the significance of our inclusiveness mission.

The vast potential of individuals neglected or deterred by the current national higher education system will not be realized by cracking open the door slightly wider to highly selective colleges. Institutions like the ones we have in NSHE are committed to achieving broad access.

However, this open access can present challenges for student success and graduation rates. A little bit of college doesn’t help anyone. Student access without success does not translate into opportunity.

Here in Nevada, we rank 49th in the nation for the amount of 18 to 24 year olds enrolled in any type of higher education, including certificates and other two and four year degrees. And we are also fall below national standards for graduation rates.

We at the Nevada System of Higher Education, or NSHE, and its community colleges and universities must and will do better.

I sometimes think about these statistics, not in terms of numbers, but in terms of people. I wonder about the thousands of students who didn’t graduate. I think, why they didn’t graduate.

What were the barriers that kept them from success? Rest assured, many probably suffered from similar issues. Financial hardship. Not academically prepared for the rigors of higher education. Family obligations or maybe they got a well-paying job that did not require a degree right away.

And chances are, those students not only didn’t get a degree, they probably also incurred or accrued a large amount of debt or financial loss in the process. And those students likely won’t have the skills and credential requirements Nevada’s expanding economy needs in its workforce.

These situations aren’t new. But the reality remains that more education still means more money over a worker’s lifetime. Learning is the single most critical adaptive function for individual success. It is the pathway to social mobility and the middle class.

And growing a skilled workforce will continue to help the Silver State’s economy move forward and diversify.

Here at NSHE, the Board of Regents have identified five strategic goals, along with metrics, to compare performance of Nevada’s public higher education institutions to other states and peers. The five areas include increasing access to higher education; improving student success; closing the achievement gap; addressing state workforce needs; and co-developing solutions to critical issues facing Nevada.

We have made these metrics available to the public on our Web Site, nshe.nevada.edu, because through transparency and public engagement we can identify problem areas and find solutions.

And while we continue to work toward creating a culture of higher education for young students in our state, we must also partner with our K-12 school districts to better prepare high school students for the rigors of post-secondary education.

With that in mind, these two programs are just some of the ways we are working to create pathways to access and student success.

Summer School Initiative

An important piece of our proposed 2019 budget is the Summer School Initiative, which was sought by presidents of NSHE’s institutions. Currently, the institutions are not funded via the state funding formula for STEM summer classes, which impacted the number of classes available to enable students to graduate on time.

The current funding model was limited because most students at NSHE institutions don’t take the summer off anymore. Students are going to school year-round and this expansion will accelerate student completion.

This initiative is in keeping with the changing times and economy of the state and addresses Nevada’s need for STEM-trained and highly skilled workers.

The Promise Scholarship

Last year more than 1,300 students became eligible to receive the scholarship and attend the College of Southern Nevada, Great Basin College, Truckee Meadows Community College, or Western Nevada College this fall semester nearly for free.

Established by Gov. Brian Sandoval and the Nevada Legislature in 2017 and distributed through NSHE institutions, the scholarship covers any remaining mandatory tuition/registration fees after all other forms of aid are applied. This opportunity is available to any Nevada student graduating from high school or completing a high school.

To be eligible, a student must complete the application, attend two training sessions, meet with an assigned mentor, complete 20 hours of community service (the Fall 2018 class has already done more than 25,000 hours of community service), complete all financial aid required documentation, including the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), and register for at least 12 credits a semester.

The Promise Scholarship is just the latest way the state legislature and NSHE has worked together to increase access to higher education for Nevada students, including the Guinn Millennium Scholarship, the Silver State Opportunity Grant, and campus-based access funds.

Indeed, NSHE must always be working toward inclusion and completion, and that means tearing down barriers that keep our students from seeking higher education and graduating on time.

And there’s a lot of work to do.

It simply is not enough to increase access to higher education. We must also provide the financial, logistical, and academic support that will lead our students to success.