The pandemic turned Bart Patterson’s victory lap into the busiest year of his tenure as president of Nevada State College.
After nearly a decade on the job, Patterson announced in March that he would retire in June 2021, at the end of the academic year.
Patterson told State of Nevada that instead of a “ride into the sunset” in his final year, he needed to address the fallout from COVID-19.
“It’s not, obviously, just a health crisis,” he said, “It’s a fiscal crisis for the state and higher education.”
He said the college curtailed hiring in the face of state budget cuts and worked to take its course offerings online.
“We haven’t been able to hire as many faculty and staff as we need to meet this growing student population," he said, "And, obviously, if the state financial picture doesn’t greatly improve and we stay in this kind of frozen space or have even further decline then there could be some significant impacts.”
Patterson said the financial challenges facing Nevada make additional state spending on higher education unlikely in the foreseeable future.
Instead, he would like his successor to consider inviting tech and healthcare companies and other appropriate businesses onto the 500-acre campus. There they could develop collaborative ventures and be an employment pipeline for the college.
“I... think that the next president... is going to have to continue this look at how we can develop alternative revenue streams to really create a stronger institution,” Patterson said.
Overall, Patterson believes higher education institutions around the state and the country need to find creative ways to add revenue streams outside of raising tuition and state support.
Besides revenue, Patterson would like his successor to consider changing the institution's name to 'university.' He said although he's done all he can to educate people about what Nevada State College does it hasn't sunk in.
“It doesn’t always resonate in the community that we are a four-year institution,” he said.
Adding to the confusion is the fact that community colleges are using 'college' in their names.
The final issue Patterson would like his successor to focus on is building programs to educate the workforce of the future.
“I think that all of higher education, and Nevada State I certainly would include as being a critical need in the state for that middle-tier, lower-cost education, we’ve got to focus on some skills training to help a workforce rapidly deploy,” he said.
Patterson said the school should not just educate people for a single job but for a career that will evolve over the next 10 years.
He noted that jobs are disappearing because of automation and artificial intelligence, and NSC can provide the rapid re-skilling of the workforce that will be needed.
“We’re building all the key academic programs that we’re going to need to build over the next 10 years to really take on an increasing share of critical workforce needs of this state,” he said.
The school did the same thing when it first opened. There was a critical need for nurses in Southern Nevada and now NSC has one of the largest nursing programs in the state.
It is currently working to ramp up its education programs to be a pipeline for Southern Nevada's schools and end the decades-long teacher shortage.
Nevada State has seen surging enrollment since Patterson became president eight years ago, more than doubling in the last five years alone. Today its student population is 7,100 and its first campus housing is scheduled to open next week.
According to Patterson, in the state’s higher education structure, the four-year college on the Boulder City side of Henderson fits between community colleges and the big research institutions, UNLV and UNR.
“We’ve really gone from a part-time student population to being a more full-time first-time freshman population. And we’ve really become not only more diverse but we’ve become a first-choice institution,” Patterson said.
Bart Patterson, president, Nevada State College
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