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In 1965, only one state had no community colleges: Nevada. That soon changed. And 2021 marks the golden anniversary of the College of Southern Nevada and Western Nevada College.

It all began when Carson City and Elko residents tried to start their own colleges, and Elko succeeded. The result was what is now Great Basin College. Governor Paul Laxalt took office in 1967 and strongly supported community colleges. He also encountered a benefactor, who lived at the Desert Inn: Howard Hughes. The billionaire gave the state a quarter of a million dollars to help start the Elko campus and study where to put other colleges. The regents hired a community college administrator, Charles Donnelly. He developed a mission and targeted Las Vegas and Carson City. Interestingly, the legislature would wind up debating whether the new community colleges should be separate from the university, with a different governing board than the university regents. Not that there has been ANY controversy since.

Clark County Community College opened at the old Review-Journal offices on North Main Street and offered programs in vocational areas. They worked with the Clark County School District—a partnership that continues. The City of North Las Vegas provided 80 acres at Cheyenne and Pecos, and the four C’s, as it was called, made the move. The Greenspuns and the City of Henderson provided acreage for a campus at the other end of the valley. The college also got land on West Charleston near Rainbow. Now the college has about fifty thousand students, several campuses, and a large online presence. It also had the first woman president in Nevada’s higher education system, Judith Eaton, and its first Black president, Paul Meacham. It also got into sports, and had a baseball player named Bryce Harper who’s done pretty well for himself. Its name evolved to Community College of Southern Nevada and finally to College of Southern Nevada.

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Meanwhile, Western Nevada Community College opened in 1971 at the Carson City civic center. Now it’s known as Western Nevada College. It also received land and got taxpayer support. The Washoe County School District adult education program and UNR’s Nevada Technical Institute became part of Western Nevada’s offerings. It soon expanded into Fallon, Hawthorne, Incline Village, Yerington, and Zephyr Cove. It later added centers in Dayton, Fernley, Lovelock, Smith Valley, and Virginia City, and a campus in Gardnerville. It also had a Reno branch that became Truckee Meadows Community College. Today, WNC has about four thousand students and Truckee Meadows has more than eleven thousand enrolled.

Some of these colleges include four-year degree programs—thus the dropping of community. But they are an important part of Nevada’s communities for education at many levels and the performing arts, and as gathering places. Their students have gone on to success with their degrees or transferring to four-year schools. Their faculty include business leaders, poets, novelists, and widely published scholars in areas like history and political science. Some of them also have carved an admirable record as community activists in their own right. And they exist because local communities took action to create and support them. We’re also part of them here—after all, I’m recording this at the KNPR studios at, where else, the West Charleston campus of CSN!

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