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UNR focuses on current SNU students ahead of acquisition

Miranda Jacobson
mjacobson@tahoedailytribune.com

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. – Sierra Nevada University (SNU) opened its doors in 1969 with just 23 students enrolled. Over 50 years later, administration is preparing for the final steps before the complete acquisition of the school by University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) in July of 2022.

The decision was announced in July of 2021 by the Board of Trustees of SNU after starting an agreement with the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) to begin discussions regarding the transfer of academic programs and operations, along with SNU’s financial and real property assets to UNR and it’s Foundation.

SNU Executive Vice President and Provost Dr. Jill Heaton joined the Executive Transition Office from her position of UNR Senior Vice Provost and has been working on the process of not only certifying the SNU acquisition but ensuring a quality education for the students who are still currently enrolled at SNU.



“Our primary focus for the next three and half years is to teach out the SNU students that are still here,” said Dr. Heaton. “We do acknowledge that as time progresses, you get fewer and fewer students, so we do have a plan to bring students to this campus.”

The acquisition has yet to be fully approved, as the schools still require the approval from the United States Department of Education (USDE), NSHE, and the Nevada Commission of Post-Secondary Education. The school will no longer be accredited beginning July 1, 2022, assuming the approvals go through. That means that undergraduate programs of SNU will not longer be accepting freshman to the campus.



With the quality of education for current students at the forefront of the administration’s priorities, there are new plans to eventually bring current UNR students to the campus for a ‘Semester in Tahoe.’

“[UNR students] would come up here to live,” said Dr. Heaton. “They would learn and take classes up here – not driving back and forth. The students that we would select to come up here would be highly curated to meet the needs of the SNU students that are still finishing.”

Dr. Heaton was clear that the number one priority currently is the needs of the current SNU students, meaning the schedules offered to UNR students would be classes that SNU students need to meet their degree requirements. Eventually, once the full time students have graduated from the former SNU program, the campus will be dedicated to semester-term learning in order to give more students the opportunity to learn in Lake Tahoe.

“The legacy and the culture of this campus is small classes, immersive, experiential, and a place where you actually use the environment as a classroom; we don’t want to get rid of that,” said Dr. Heaton.

Students graduating from SNU this year will finish the year with a degree from UNR, but their degree programs from SNU will still be reflected on their diplomas and transcripts. Additionally, all students are currently enrolled at SNU will be able to finish their degrees on campus with no interruptions.

With the resources of UNR at the full disposal of the campus, Dr. Heaton said that they will be able to offer more classes with more content in the areas that students need credits.

Overall, the campus is going to be more available to not only students who might not be able to afford the experience due to the rising housing prices in the basin.

“We would like to see this campus have more opportunities and more individuals that would not have the opportunity to be up here in Lake Tahoe or would never have the funds to be up here,” said Dr. Heaton. “In order to do that, we have the Semester at Tahoe, which is shorter and more intensive. It’s a really created education experience for students as opposed to coming here as a freshman and graduating as a senior.”

The administration is understanding of the fact that Incline Village and the SNU campus is community oriented and stays on the quieter side, and because of that, they are excited to not only continue the annual events that have been hosted at the school, but continue to add more series that enhance the educational experiences of students as well as the quality of living for the community.

“I think that it’s just trying to take every activity that happens on campus and ensure that is has an education component,” said Dr. Heaton. “We’re maintaining high profile speaker series, where we’re bringing in the best and the brightest and cutting edge things. But not just scientists, but also artists or writers. This is what I say to my colleagues: ‘Think of the top person in your discipline that you would like to have here and say, ‘Hey, would you like to come to Lake Tahoe for a week?’”

Additionally, with prior approval from the Tahoe Regional Area Planning Agency in the Master Plan, the school is looking to build a performing arts center along with a new dormitory and residence hall.

Dr. Heaton thinks that the addition of the two buildings will allow for more activities and events on campus for students and the community that will build up the district as a whole.

“I think that the more vibrancy that’s on this campus with those types of summer activities is supportive of what the community has been looking for,” said Dr. Heaton.

Decisions that haven’t been made yet, but are most likely to be announced in the coming weeks, include whether the sports teams at SNU will continue on, along with the fate of the Board of Trustees.

Dr. Heaton said that the current staff and faculty have the choice to continue working for UNR, but the Board of Trustees will be dissolved a year following the official acquisition in order to close out the schools 501(c)(3).

Programs that will survive the acquisition include the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and Interdisciplinary Studies, which has been successful in the past and is currently recruiting students for the fall semester. The low-residency programs will integrate well with the existing high-residency programs already offered by UNR.

Dr. Heaton said that although the decision must not have been easy, she’s grateful to the Board of Trustees for making such a difficult decision to gift the school to UNR.

“I want to give a big thank you to the Board of Trustees for making a difficult decision, and, in doing so, early enough in the process so that we have this orderly transition opportunity and opening up educational experiences for more students not just in the region, but from around the world.”


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