The College of Southern Nevada is the largest and most diverse college in the state, serving more than 34,000 students.
And now, it has a new president.
Dr. Federico Zaragoza came to the college from Alamo Colleges District in Texas.
He’s been on the job since mid-August.
“I’ve been very pleased to see that this is a community that’s growing," he told KNPR's State of Nevada. "It’s a community that has high aspirations and it’s a college system here that’s very unique and that Nevada really allows to look at education holistically.”
Zaragoza said his goal is to move the college system from "good to great."
“To get to great, we’re going to have to elevate our outcomes," he said.
By outcomes, he means student outcomes of transferring to a four-year university or completing a degree.
Right now, the college's graduation rate is 7 percent, but Zaragoza said that number is deceiving because it only accounts for students who achieve an associates degree or a level-one one-year certificate.
He said, in reality, a lot of students go to community college with the goal to eventually transfer to a four-year university.
In addition, many students enter the system not to get an associates degree, but to get certified in a skill like welding or the culinary arts. Both disciplines have several different certifications that people can earn and then use to get a good job.
“All of that is an indicator of student success,” he said.
With that, Zaragoza said he would like to move the graduation rates and the transfer rates above the national average.
Besides boosting the graduation rates, Zaragoza would like to see more diversification in the programs the school offers, particularly in health and information technology.
“The real opportunity is in diversification. Health occupations, for example, are areas of not only projected demand, but these are quality labor market jobs that pay significant wages and that allow individuals to create pathways,” he said.
He said the college needs to not only align with current employment opportunities but emerging market demands.
Besides knowing how to operate equipment, Zaragoza said the future workforce needs soft skills like problem-solving, working with others, and good communication.
“Part of what we’re at in community college environments is not only looking at the occupational skills sets but also very strong soft skills that are now imminent and necessary to be meaningfully employed in today’s economy,” he said.
He said those skills will always be needed no matter what the actual work of a job is.
At the next legislative session, Zaragoza wants to focus on getting funding for a new science and health facility in Henderson and for planning the fourth community college campus, which would be built in the northwest part of the valley.
He believes the fourth campus may not be enough to fill the valley's educational needs. He thinks over the long-term a fifth campus might be needed.
“That is why this master planning is so important so we do have the roadmap that will take us to meet the needs of the community has it emerges,” he said.
Dr. Federico Zaragoza, president, College of Southern Nevada
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