While Las Vegas Slept

Rural Nevadans appear to be concerned about something that doesn’t seem to concern all that many Las Vegans. The odd part is that the Las Vegans outnumber the rural Nevadans, and they have the same problem.

Large cuts are being rumored for Western Nevada College in Fallon, which is about seven hours and 400 miles from Las Vegas. At Great Basin College in Elko, the president hosted a forum on the proposed new funding formula for the Nevada System of Higher Education. The academic vice president there, Mike McFarlane, called it “funding by cannibalization,” and with good reason: The new formula would cost Great Basin College 31 percent of its budget.

To which Chancellor Dan Klaich made a couple of points. One, “I don’t think we are supposed to just enroll folks and let them wander around the system. … I think that is our No. 1 job, to educate to completion,” which is fine, except that means the community colleges might have to choose not to serve those from the, uh, community, who want to take classes to make their lives better, but not complete a degree. Two, Klaich noted that Great Basic College receives more state dollars per full-time student than any other institution in the Nevada System of Higher Education, calling it a “very heavy subsidy in state tax dollars.”

To which McFarlane replied, “It is not a subsidy—it is the cost of business. We are not richly funded. We are underfunded, and we are barely making it through right now.” Klaich then agreed on the need for “mitigating factors.”

Meanwhile, the College of Southern Nevada supposedly would receive millions as a “mitigating factor”—mitigating a system that would punish the school for not having upper-division and graduate-level classes, and if its students include people simply trying to learn a little something or save money by taking a couple of classes more cheaply than they could at UNLV or UNR or any other university to which they might transfer.

It’s hard to know which is more maddening: That Southern Nevadans, especially at CSN, aren’t up in arms about this, or that rural Nevadans are. In 2010, Elko County voted for Brian Sandoval for governor over Rory Reid by a more than 4-1 margin, and no Democrat got more than 26 percent of the vote in any federal or state election. By comparison, Churchill County, whose county seat is Fallon, was a liberal bastion: Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto got the biggest percentage of any Democrat with 37.63 percent of the vote in her race, about 10 percent less than her opponent, whom she soundly defeated statewide.

Rural Nevadans don’t want to lose access to higher education, but overwhelmingly supported those who preached the gospel of cutting or gutting, depending on how far to the right they tilted. The faculty and staff at those institutions deserve better, even if those they serve don’t.

In Clark County, though, the traditional problem continues: With 72 percent of the state’s population and the next Legislature’s membership, the talk remains of party, not of serving the county. And until Clark County’s legislators wake up to the power to increase taxes and override any gubernatorial veto that their more than two-thirds majority gives them, if only they stick together, their constituents will continue to get not merely the short end of the stick, but no
stick at all.