September Chronicle

The CSN Chronicle


Greetings to all!  I hope your semester is going well. There are a number of activities I’d like you to know about.     

Cheyenne Improvements

We’ve made a number of capital improvements in our venerable Cheyenne campus, and there is more being done to improve the use and aesthetics of these facilities.    The new science labs, along with new classrooms, are in use!  Sherri Payne and her staff have worked with the State Public Works staff and Clark and Sullivan, the contractor, on this extensive upgrade that was funded through capital improvement dollars from the 2009 legislative session.  It looks wonderful!  Our own facilities staff members have developed a phased plan to upgrade public circulation and assembly space with new carpet, painting, and mechanical improvements.  Restrooms will also be renovated.    Each semester we will be working on better signage and new finishes to freshen Cheyenne.   During the renovation this past summer, a modular lab was installed north of the Horn Theatre.  We will keep that facility in operation even though construction is finished on the labs. This increases capacity in our science programs.  

I hope you have a chance to visit the remodeled science labs on the second floor, south end of the main building.  Thank you, Sherri and the entire facilities staff, for the effort on this important project.

 Strategic and Fiscal Direction

The September meeting of the Board of Regents will be held next week in Las Vegas at Desert Research Institute.  During the meeting, the Board will hear from Dr. Sandra Elman from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.  New accrediting standards and processes are in place for all Nevada colleges and universities, and the Board needs to learn about the changes as they plan strategically for NSHE’s future.  Dr. David Longenecker, Executive Director, Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE), will be a guest of the Board to facilitate strategic planning for the regents and the System.  We may also hear more on the status of the funding formula study that is expected to get underway this month.   

Texas Station will be the site for our annual Holiday Party on Thursday, December 8th.  Please mark your calendars and plan to join us for this wonderful celebration. 

Online Courses and Programs

Online Learning: the Fresh Look Task Force and the Pew Research Center

Two major reports have raised policy issues regarding online learning.  Within Nevada, the Fresh Look at Community Colleges Task Force  has made a recommendation to establish the Nevada Virtual College, operated by a third-party vendor to deliver courses and programs throughout the state.  Nationally, the Pew Research Center also released a report with the following findings:

 As online college courses have become increasingly prevalent, the general public and college presidents offer different assessments of their educational value. Just three-in-ten American adults (29%) say a course taken online provides an equal educational value to one taken in a classroom. By contrast, fully half of college presidents (51%) say online courses provide the same value.

More than three-quarters of the nation’s colleges and universities now offer online classes, according to the survey of college presidents, and about one-in-four college graduates (23%) have taken a course online, according to the general public survey. Among those who have graduated in the past decade, the figure rises to 46%. Adults who have taken a course online have a somewhat more positive view of the value of this learning format: 39% say a course taken online provides the same educational value as one taken in person, a view shared by only 27% of those who have not taken an online course.

At CSN about 300 courses (938 sections) and  30 certificate and degree programs are offered on-line, along with student support services for student success with online instruction.   These courses and programs are expected to meet the same standards of rigor and quality as site-based classes, and accreditation standards explicitly address this expectation.  I suspect that that is why more college presidents indicate equal educational value of online courses in the Pew chart above.

I am opposed to the creation of a Nevada Virtual College as a separate, degree-granting institution, and I would submit the CSN is already Nevada’s virtual college, given the scope of offerings, the technology support system in place, faculty oversight, and student services tools available.  Accreditation for CSN’s online program is already through CSN. A new institution and process is not needed.

Previously I reported that CSN received a grant of $756,000 in emergency management funds.  This grant is supporting an initiative to improve the safety of our campuses and our police department over the next two years.  Proceeds of the grant will support equipment, training, and emergency preparedness efforts for the institution.  Some of our new efforts will be tested with faculty and staff during this academic year.  

Questions from Faculty and Staff Members:

“How many students are enrolled this semester?”

Our official census date is October 15th, but the last numbers I saw indicated headcount enrollment was up about 1 percent over the same time last year and our FTE was up about 3 percent.

“Are budget cuts over?”

I hope so, but I don’t think the Nevada System of Higher Education and CSN are out of the woods yet.  The economy is recovering slowly and erratically.  I also expect the 2013 legislative session to be very difficult. 

“When did student completion become such a hot issue, and how do we balance that with student learning and success?”

Since early in 2010, national and state attention to certificate and degree completion has eclipsed other student-related issues.  Major foundations, the National Governor’s Association, professional associations in higher education, and the White House have focused their attention on completion and career readiness. We must reciprocate, but from my perspective, this new national agenda has sometimes overshadowed student learning, assessment, and a broader view of student success.  Liberal education has taken a back seat to career education and a perceived urgency to “get students through.” We must be mindful of that as we carry forward and remember that our job remains to instill critical thinking skills, curiosity and an appreciation for lifelong learning.       

Best regards to all.

– Mike Richards

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