Assembly Focuses on Student Achievement for Higher Education

by PAUL GEORGE & MOLLY MOSER

Steve Hill sits before committee. / Photo by PAUL GEORGE

Steve Hill sits before the Ways and Means Committee on Feb. 11. / Photo by PAUL GEORGE

During the State of the University address on Feb. 7, University of Nevada, Reno President Marc Johnson spoke about Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval’s recommendation for $10 million dollars to be committed for the state’s proposed Knowledge Fund.

The fund would be used to underwrite research at Nevada’s three research institutions — UNR, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and the Desert Research Institute. Johnson said the Nevada state government also proposed $800,000 to go toward a Student Achievement Center at UNR, which is expected to be open sometime in late 2015. During the Assembly Ways and Means Committee meeting on Feb. 11, Steve Hill, director of the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development, says that the Knowledge Fund is currently one of the state’s highest priority projects.

The Nevada Legislature passed Assembly Bill 449 in 2011; the Knowledge Fund was a part of that bill but has since remained unfunded. The Ways and Means Committee is now considering how to fund the program.

Dan Klaich, the Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor, attended the Feb. 11 Ways and Means Committee meeting with Hill to show his support the Knowledge Fund. Klaich says the fund is an important part of AB 449, which repeals business license fees, business taxes and taxes on financial institutions. The bill also re-enacts the business activity tax that would impose taxes on out-of-state companies operating within Nevada.

“The Knowledge Fund is the centerpiece of the participation [of AB449],” Klaich says. “These are all projects that center excellence to the two state universities and the Desert Research Institute.”

During the committee meeting, Assemblyman David Bobzien expressed concern about the ability to measure the economic benefit of Knowledge Fund grants. He says the goals of these grants must be more than philosophical.

“There should be some highly structured deliverables along the way that provide the roadmap for how the big-picture strategic goals are going to be accomplished,” Bobzien says.

Assemblyman Paul Aizely says the fund needed to be monitored with long-term economic benefits in mind.

“I think scientific research, medical research, these things can take years,” Aizely says. “If this program is looking for instant results you’re not going to see them in a lot of cases.”

James Richardson, a lobbyist representing the Nevada Faculty Alliance, spoke during the public comment portion of the session. He says the NFA supports the Knowledge Fund and cited the Utah Science Technology and Research initiative as an illustration of the value of programs that tie state grants and university research together, adding that the USTAR program has created more than 200 patents for Utah’s universities.

According to USTAR’s website, the program received $179 million in 2006 and has obtained another $15 million annually from the state of Utah since. The money is used to fund research that is geared toward stimulating Utah’s economic development. Richardson says that USTAR’s success makes a strong case for the Knowledge Fund in this state.

“It time that Nevada got on the bandwagon,” Richardson says.

UNR Student Achievement Center: Focus on Student Graduation

UNR president Marc Johnson spoke to a full auditorium at the university during his State of the University address on Feb. 7, detailing UNR’s plans build a Student Achievement Center.

“We’re building a greater community on this campus for all of our students of all ability levels and aspirations,” Johnson says.

Johnson said the Student Achievement Center would combine tutoring and career services available to students in order to raise student retention levels and increase graduation rates.

Johnson said construction of the center is slated to begin in July of this year with the demolition of the old Getchell Library — replaced by the Mathewson IGT Knowledge Center in 2008 — in order to make room for the new center.

The razing of Getchell Library and construction of the new building carries a price tag of around $36 million, Johnson says. The money will come from a combination of bonds, state funding and donations.

Johnson said the goal of the center would be to provide a single area where students can go for tutoring and other academic assistance. Currently, these programs are peppered throughout the UNR campus. Johnson says the academic goal is to increase student retention and graduation rates.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, UNR’s six-year graduation rate is 51 percent for undergraduate programs — the national average is 63 percent. The new center is expected to be open for the Fall 2015 school semester.

This article was also published in The Nevada Sagebrush on 02.26.2013.



Categories: EDUCATION