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TMCC President On Training Employees For The New Nevada Workforce


When most people think of higher education, a four-year university is probably what comes to mind, but the president of the Truckee Meadows Community College says it is time for people to rethink that idea.

Karin Hilgersom started at TMCC in the summer of 2016.

She told State of Nevada the public needs to be educated on how much can be gained from a two-year degree from a community college, instead of a four-year degree from a university.

"There is a lack of understanding related to a high return on investment for jobs connected to two years degrees," she said.

Hilgersom said getting a four-year degree in history may not result in the kind of paycheck many people are looking for, but a two-year degree in something like automotive technology at a community college can put somebody into the workforce much more quickly -- and with a much higher paycheck.

She said about 40 percent of the students at TMCC are working toward degrees in professional or technical programs and one program, in particular, is getting a lot of attention.

"The one that is growing very, very quickly is our work in advanced manufacturing and robotics," she said. "That's the workforce program that is a partnership between TMCC and Tesla and Panasonic."

She said the partnership between the school, Tesla and Panasonic was crafted before she arrived and before work started on the Gigafactory at the Reno-Tahoe Industrial Center.

"It really is important to always keep looking at the community as a mix of education, economic development, good business practices -- in Reno-Sparks-Tahoe we do a pretty great job of that," she said.

At TMCC, Panasonic hosts job fairs, hires people and then the college connects them to training and classes needed for those jobs.

"It is truly an integrated workforce partnership that, to me, is truly amazing," Hilgersom said.

While 40 percent of the students taking classes for credit are in technical or professional classes, 60 percent are working on transferring to a four-year program at schools like the University of Nevada-Reno or UNLV, Hilgersom said.

TMCC has to be concerned about those students completing their coursework and being able to transfer those credits.

"We are constantly trying to iron out potential trouble spots when it comes to transfer," she said.

Hilgersom said the issue of transferring from a community college to a four-year university is a national one. She would like to see the conversation change from "what are community colleges going to do" to "universities telling community colleges what courses they need."

"We really want students to have all of their credits transfer," she added.

TMCC works with universities outside of the state to make sure they're meeting their standards as well.

A new program from the state of Nevada aims to help more students get that two-year associates degree. The Nevada Promise scholarship program is available as a ‘last dollar' scholarship, which means a student in need will get the money after all other scholarship dollars have kicked in.

But Hilgersom said Nevada Promise is also available to kids who don't qualify for need-based aid.  

"So, in some respects, it really does cover tuition at community colleges regardless of how much money mom and dad make," she said. "This is a really great start, I think, for the state of Nevada to help middle-class families avail themselves of public higher education."

As Truckee Meadow Community College moves into 2018, Hilgersom's biggest concern is money to keep up with the advancing technologies for which the college is trying to prepare students, especially in the science and healthcare fields.

"So, at some point, I think our challenge is figuring out as a state how do we help fund necessary capital projects so that our community colleges continue to be the best in the country," she said.


Karin Hilgersom, president, Truckee Meadow Community College

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Casey Morell is the coordinating producer of Nevada Public Radio's flagship broadcast State of Nevada and one of the station's midday newscast announcers. (He's also been interviewed by Jimmy Fallon, whatever that's worth.)