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CSN President Cites Progress, Even As Many Students Lack Basic Skills

Chris Smith/Nevada Public Radio

Federico Zaragoza, president, College of Southern Nevada (left); John Guedry, CEO, Bank of Nevada (right)

The Clark County School District is responsible for the education of 325,000 students, and each year thousands of them continue their academic career at the College of Southern Nevada.

“I can tell you that 70 percent of the students that come in are not college-ready,” CSN President Federico Zaragoza told State of Nevada.

CSN, which starts its fall term today, is not unique in that, Zaragoza said, adding that colleges nationwide rely on remedial programs to increase student skill sets.

The problem here and in other places is an alignment of programs and expectations in public schools, he said.

Zaragoza is working with the Clark County School District on ways to improve students readiness because the majority of students come from CCSD.

“That’s our pipeline and that’s why a lot of the work that we’re doing now is working with CCSD in the pipeline so we can get them college-ready, actually college-proven, before they step on our campuses,” he said.

One program that helps students become college-proven not just college-ready, allows high school students to take college classes while in high school.

The dual enrollment program has doubled this year to 4,000 students, Zaragoza said.

Another program allows students to get a certification in HVAC by the time they graduate from high school. Zaragoza said those students can then go to CSN for their associate degree and employers will often pay the tuition or re-reimburse students.

Despite the challenges still facing education in the state, Zaragoza remains optimistic that education in Nevada is moving in a positive direction, citing efforts to partner with the school district and growing industries to better prepare students for the jobs that await them.

“Industry needs to also work with the higher education and the public school systems to be able to ensure that we got the resources that we need to be able to provide high-quality education that is needed,” he said.

The main measure for all colleges and universities has changed from access to higher education to student success, Zaragoza said. CSN students are showing improved academic results.

"Our student success indicator is that about 48 percent of our first-time-in-college cohort within three years either graduate or transferring,” he said. “That number compares to about 25 percent just a few years back.”

Bank of Nevada CEO John Guedry, a longtime education advocate, said many in the business community would support additional education spending — and the unavoidable higher taxes — if it goes to better preparing students.

“We want to be careful that we don’t commit that funding to areas where we’re not necessarily seeing a direct benefit to student outcomes,” Guedry said.

He said the Great Recession changed a lot of business leaders' minds when it came to education. They realized that one industry couldn't support a city of three million people.

“It has caused us to re-think the way that we approach day-to-day life here in Las Vegas and how important education needs to be,” he said.

During the recovery from the recession, higher education leaders, the Brookings Institute and the governor's office laid out a plan to diversify the economy by focusing on industries that Southern Nevada was short on like health care and by targeting businesses that could grow.

However, Guedry said many businesses have been unable to grow because they can't find an educated workforce. 

“We’re trying to help the business community understand the needs of the education community, find common ground and work together to meet those needs,” he said.

One bill business leaders and educators were able to agree on and work together to pass during this past legislative session was the changes to the state's education funding formula, Guedry said.

The funding formula was created in the 60s and everyone agreed it did not fit the needs of Nevada students in 2019.

Guedry believes that change is the first step but CCSD also needs to improve efficiencies and then look for gaps and roadblocks that need to be addressed.

Federico Zaragoza, president, College of Southern Nevada; John Guedry, CEO, Bank of Nevada

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With deep experience in journalism, politics, and the nonprofit sector, news producer Doug Puppel has built strong connections statewide that benefit the Nevada Public Radio audience.