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Come Together

Northern Nevada’s multi-institution Redfield campus creates a single footprint and a seamless system of higher education.

By Delores A. Sanford and Philip M. Ringle

In the 1990s, Northern Nevada experienced large-scale commercial and residential growth. Part of that growth corridor was southwestern Reno, a rapidly developing suburban area with homes, shopping centers, a health care facility, and K-12 schools. However, no plans existed for bringing a higher education facility to the community. That post-secondary shortage in the greater Reno area stifled opportunities for local residents as well as the mission of the Nevada System of Higher Education to provide educational access to all Nevadans. To address this important issue, NSHE brought determination and innovation to the planning table. The Nell J. Redfield Foundation offered another important asset: land. In 1995, the private foundation—a longtime supporter of higher education—donated 60 acres to NSHE to establish the Redfield campus. The foundation envisioned a cooperative campus of six to eight buildings to serve an anticipated 10,000 students. Despite some shifts in scope during the 11 years since its inception, Redfield enrolled its first students last fall.

With Growth Comes Change

Originally, the Redfield campus was to include three institutions: the University of Nevada, Reno; Truckee Meadows Community College; and Western Nevada Community College. While the home campuses for UNR and TMCC are in Reno, WNCC’s flagship campus is located approximately 30 miles south in Carson City. Faced with other priorities, WNCC dropped out of the Redfield site planning early in the process. For nearly a decade, the partnership continued between UNR and TMCC. In 2005, as the Redfield campus was preparing to open, the Desert Research Institute (DRI)—with headquarters in Reno and Las Vegas—joined UNR in a unique programming effort. Even more recently, Nevada State College (NSC), which opened its flagship campus 400 miles south in Henderson in 2002, worked with TMCC to plan a joint-use facility for Redfield.

The result is a single campus that will soon host academic programs provided by a community college, a state college, a university, and a research institution. The campus is poised to provide residents in the southwestern Reno area with a comprehensive higher education system. While Redfield is not the first integrated campus, few similar models exist. One important distinction with this partnership is the foundation’s involvement.

Gerald Smith, manager of the Redfield Foundation, has been involved in the partnership from the start. According to Smith, the foundation acted as a catalyst in bringing people and ideas together and providing the space, money, and time to make campus planning a priority. The foundation’s dream of developing a collaborative campus structure is finally becoming reality. Yet Smith recognizes that the project has been a team effort, requiring support from individuals at UNR and TMCC in particular.

As plans for Redfield have evolved, so has the campus. Joseph Crowley was UNR’s president for 23 years until he retired in 2001. Prior to his departure, he was involved in the early stages of the Redfield partnership. This past winter when Crowley returned to serve as interim president of UNR, the Redfield campus had two completed buildings with more on the way.

Why Reno?

For the past six years, Nevada has been the fastest-growing state in the nation. The 30-mile stretch between Reno and Carson City has represented a population in need of more higher education opportunities. Smith says the southwestern Reno location was key to the Redfield partnership. He believes that the project likely could have been realized elsewhere in Nevada but not as effectively. “The Redfield campus was placed in a location that is equally accessible to all growth areas,” he says.

Enrollment at TMCC—which opened in 1971—reflects the population boom, serving 11,500 students each semester. Since 1994, total enrollment at TMCC has increased by 33 percent, while the number of full-time equivalent students has increased by 58 percent. These figures don’t include an additonal 5,000 to 6,000 students enrolled in non-state-supported classes such as community service, industry-specific, or special population programs including English as a Second Language. While it was apparent that TMCC needed extra resources to address that growth, why build a new campus in Reno?

The Redfield campus has provided some relief and new opportunities for TMCC, a midsized community college grappling with the pressures of growth. First, the land is situated in one of the fastest-growing parts of TMCC’s service area and enables the college to provide increased access to students from that region. Second, the partnership with UNR and NSC allows the community college to expand its market, create new courses and programs, and reposition itself in the marketplace. In addition to satisfying the trustees’ wishes at TMCC, the college must also honor the land donor’s desire for a collaborative campus that enhances, supplements, and complements the educational programs of the partners; promotes educational flexibility; and develops and sustains cooperative programs.

Three-Tiered Decision Making

As with any project that necessitates collaboration among staff across multiple departments, creating an effectively run partnership among multiple institutions requires that administrators set aside issues of territory and control to seek common ground. The result for the Redfield campus has been the implementation of a new agreement that won the blessing of the Redfield Foundation, the Nevada state board of regents, and the two primary participating institutions—the University of Nevada, Reno, and Truckee Meadows Community College.

To craft the agreement, the presidents of UNR and TMCC held meetings with their staff to lay out guidelines for instructional programming and operating issues. These meetings resulted in a collaborative agreement that had input and support from both campuses and the foundation. When the campus opened its doors in 2005, the agreement was in place, which called for a three-tiered governance structure. The three-tiered system provides checks and balances in the management process while giving each institution an oversight role.

  • Governing council. The Redfield campus required a governance structure that reflected the partnership set forth by the foundation. The governing council is composed of the TMCC and UNR presidents and a member of the foundation. The group is charged with top-level oversight: reviewing and approving the master planning for the campus, adjudicating any disagreements among the managers, and providing policy recommendations.
  • Advisory council. Reporting to the governing council is the advisory council, which consists of six voting members representing the senior managers from UNR, TMCC, and the foundation. The advisory council meets quarterly to consider master planning issues, infrastructure needs, and capital requests, among other issues.
  • Joint management committee. The “workhorse” of the governance structure is the joint management committee, which reports to the campus advisory council. The joint management committee is composed of the campus manager (a jointly funded position) and operational and academic leaders. These individuals deal with the day-to-day campus operations issues such as academic offerings, student services, publications, class schedules, and budget planning.

Full-Service Academics

By bringing together diverse institutions, Redfield can serve varied constituencies and provide a seamless integration of academic programs, offering students more than any single institution could offer on its own. For instance, TMCC awards associate degrees and certificates; UNR offers baccalaureate programs complementing the community college’s first two years; and NSC will award baccalaureate degrees in programs not offered by UNR. Likewise, NSC and UNR will benefit from students transitioning to their upper division courses from TMCC programs.

Joining the Redfield collaborative will kick-start growth of the state’s newest college and establish a presence for the institution in Northern Nevada, according to NSC President Fred Maryanski. “The project will allow Nevada State College to fulfill its statewide mission by offering select bachelors programs in a two-plus-two mode with Truckee Meadows Community College in the Reno area,” he says.

The partnership also allows educators at all institutions to collaborate on academic programs. For instance, while the programs at each participating institution are the same as those offered on each flagship campus, some have greater depth at Redfield. TMCC is currently developing a two-year program in alternative energy with a focus on geothermal energy, and the program is being designed to coordinate with one offered by UNR. In addition, DRI has research programs in alternative and renewable energy that complement courses at TMCC and UNR. As the community college program matures, administrators anticipate that students will be able to gain experience in the research field through student employment with DRI. In turn, DRI will benefit from a ready source of employees. Students will enjoy the offerings of a large research university that has the feel of a small college in a suburban setting.

A revamped nursing program is set to make strides toward a state mandate to increase nursing graduates and to address a personnel shortage in Nevada. This development has been especially significant to TMCC program planning. At the college’s main campus, the nursing and sciences programs suffered from a shortage of laboratories and a lack of physical or fiscal resources to add new labs. Faced with the challenges of providing a quality nursing program on a tight budget, TMCC and its nursing students received a huge boost from the Redfield collaborative. The community, including the Redfield Foundation, stepped up to help the college provide state-of-the-art laboratories at the Redfield campus. TMCC’s nursing and open computer laboratories are available to the other institutions. By bringing together the resources of multiple institutions, all Redfield students benefit from broader exposure to academic and social offerings.

Beyond the classroom, the Redfield campus provides possibilities for collaboration with potential cost savings and improved services to students. Presently, the student application processes are based on each institution’s standalone system. All students register with the college or university offering the class or program in which a student wishes to enroll. However, plans are under way to make the application process reflective of the partnership by implementing an enhanced student information system and a single online registration process. Crowley acknowledges that similar opportunities for taking a joint approach to student services, counseling, financial aid, marketing, and perhaps resource sharing can yield benefits.

Learning to Cooperate

Early on, when each institution was examining internal needs, the foundation challenged Redfield campus participants to rethink how to educate and partner. Doing so required each institution to cast aside differences to take advantage of the partnership synergy and the cost efficiencies that could and should result from an integrated campus. Historically, UNR and TMCC have operated independently and at times even competitively. “Because a state-appropriated budget is driven by enrollment, tension can arise from competition for funding,” Crowley notes. But the support of the foundation has afforded administrators the opportunity to work as a team to incorporate the cultures of both institutions, adds Smith.

Another challenge has been determining whom to bring to the decision-making table and when. Nevada State College is the most recent addition to the partnership. With the college’s main campus located in another part of the state, Maryanski recognizes that distance may be a complicating factor as NSC becomes fully integrated, but he remains confident that careful planning will result in a successful project that serves all participants’ needs.

Redfield must also address the needs of a diverse faculty. According to Crowley, some UNR faculty have expressed concern about taking resources from the university’s main campus and using them at Redfield. While such concerns are understandable, Crowley doesn’t expect it to become a significant issue for UNR since Redfield’s development will be gradual and at some point UNR may budget separately for those resources.

Among the most significant hurdles of the partnership has been sorting out the different roles for each institution. With its original gift, the foundation delegated all administrative control of the proposed campus to UNR, including responsibility for auxiliary and student services. Crowley notes that during the project’s infancy there was some uncertainty about UNR’s role as senior partner, and by the time Redfield was ready to open, the presidents who had crafted the original agreements had either retired or moved on. As the first institution to offer classes at the Redfield campus, TMCC had some personnel who questioned the prospect of sharing governance, facilities, and resources with UNR as the managing partner.

For instance, UNR oversees the general operation of the site and provides all services including security, custodial, and grounds. While each institution has an on-site employee to coordinate activities, TMCC pays UNR for the services through a formula for operation and maintenance. Economies exist with this arrangement, but it can also create conflict when service-level expectations are greater than what is provided. In fact, most of the concerns raised by TMCC staff have revolved around custodial and security services. However, the challenges have largely been resolved by the on-site coordinators and through a three-tiered governance system that has since been established (see sidebar, “Three-Tiered Decision Making”).

Recognizing the need to address specific operational and ongoing ideological differences, the succeeding UNR and TMCC presidents met with the foundation to redraft plans for Redfield into an agreement that brought more parity and shared responsibility to the collaborative campus model. Says Crowley, “The partnership has evolved into a situation where equality in decision making prevails.” As new institutions move to the campus, similar agreements will be developed so that all parties participate in governance and resource sharing.

Conscientious Communication

With collaboration woven into facility use, program development, services, and decision making, the Redfield campus not only serves as an important model of a planned campus but also demonstrates the benefits and challenges of a multi-institutional partnership. To be sure, the partners experienced some growing pains. Participants have learned that communication among sister institutions requires an effort similar to what’s required with a corporate merger. Maryanski says that other partnerships taught him the value of continuous communication and he expects this will hold true for the Redfield campus.

Discussions about cost models, service providers, joint facility use, programming, and other operational and management issues must begin early in the partnering process. Although there have been kinks along the way, the Redfield campus exemplifies collaboration rather than competition—a partnership that has required changes to the fundamental manner in which participants operate without compromising the essence of any institution. To sustain this partnership, the institutions recognize the need to gauge progress collaboratively, develop mutually agreed-upon goals and success measures, and commit to evaluation standards. Participants must also ensure that the linkages are at an organizational level and must capitalize on each institution’s strengths.

Concept of the Future?

Eleven years after the Redfield campus project was imagined, the future of this collaborative campus looks promising. After the first year of classes, student enrollment is growing and the feedback from faculty, staff, and students is mostly positive. From a town-gown perspective, the Redfield campus is a centerpiece of the emerging geographic area and should act as a bridge to its growing community. The foundation has encouraged community presence in Reno and access to the campus by local residents. A public transportation route is in the works, but in the meantime, the campus is accessible and free from heavy urban traffic.

For Maryanski, the opportunity for a joint building at Redfield is extremely exciting because it will bring cooperation among NSHE programs to a new level. Crowley says the collaborative nature of the project not only benefits the community and partnering entities but also strengthens the different geographies in Nevada. Smith echoes those sentiments: “The entire process has had the effect of putting northern Nevada on the map with a forward-thinking idea. It is a model that can and will be used by other institutions in the future.”

In fact, the Redfield campus has garnered interest from beyond Nevada’s borders. A community college and a university from another state have already visited Redfield to review the shared campus project. Redfield demonstrates a commitment to developing and sharing facilities and personnel in an effective and efficient way that enhances the learning experience and is cost effective for students and taxpayers.

DELORES A. SANFORD is vice president of finance and administrative services, and PHILIP M. RINGLE is president, of Truckee Meadows Community College, Reno, Nevada.