Students react to Sierra college merger
INCLINE VILLAGE – When Sierra Nevada College students returned in August to discover their school on the verge of financial collapse, most assumed they would have to complete their education elsewhere.
“Being a senior, it wasn’t as big a deal,” said Carolyn Raleigh, 23. “But for the (underclassmen), they could potentially lose all their credits if the school that bought us out didn’t have the same majors or requirements.
“We all thought we were going to be bought by a bigger school … (such as) UNR or UC Davis.”
Her worries were echoed by other students, including sophomores Seth Gunsauls, 19, and Erin Carl, 19.
“I was pretty nervous and actually started looking for some exit strategies in the event that the school ended,” Gunsauls said.
Carl said she was “terrified” by the prospect of SNC becoming another college’s satellite branch and immediately began exploring options at other schools.
“I had a feeling that something like this might happen,” said student body president Jim Keranen, 20. “It didn’t come as a giant surprise, but I was surprised by president Ranslow’s leaving.”
School partners hopeful
The announcement of the school’s partnership with Knowledge Universe Learning Group, a private, for-profit educational institution co-founded by Incline resident and financier Michael Milken, gave some SNC partners a ray of hope.
“I’m pleased that SNC has found a partner that will provide it with greater financial security as we go forward,” said Dr. Geoffrey Schladow, an associate professor at the University of California Davis, who works at SNC’s new Tahoe Environmental Research Center. “If we assume that the college’s original mission is retained, then we have a good basis for an enduring partnership between UC Davis and SNC.”
SNC president emeritus Ben Solomon, who served as the college’s chief executive for 25 of its 37 years, said the institution had struggled financially from its earliest days, and that its problems were exasperated by the move to the Lake Campus a few years ago.
Solomon said when the board of trustees consulted him, faculty and students, all said it was essential for SNC to retain its independence.
“(We) expressed our desire to see SNC remain an independent college and to preserve its mission as much as possible,” Solomon said. “The Knowledge Universe proposal most clearly satisfied these requirements.”
Feedback from UNR/DRI
Officials from the Desert Research Institute, which made the rival offer in conjunction with the University of Nevada, Reno to acquire the college, expressed mixed emotions about the merger.
“We were disappointed,” DRI president Dr. Stephen Wells said. “(Though) we are pleased to continue in our relationship with SNC through the TCES building.”
Wells said the UNR/DRI offer would have ended SNC’s four-year liberal arts program as it exists today.
“In its place, there would have been liberal arts and educational and outreach programs as well as the kind of things we do.” Wells said.
Wells described KU’s offer was “formidable.”
“Ted Sanders and Michael Milken reached out and contacted the three insinuations (UNR, DRI and the University of California, Davis) shortly after the decision was made by the board to assure us that we have a continued role on at SNC,” Wells said. “That was a very positive step in my opinion.”
As for the students who were so worried only last week, they said most of their concerns were satisfied by the merger and are confident that SNC can adapt to accommodate a larger student body.
“I’m beyond enthusiastic,” student body president Keranen said. “I actually broke down and started crying when they made the announcement.”
Some, like sophomore Gunsauls said they were proud that SNC would become affiliated with KU, but expressed concern about the for-profit company’s influence on curriculum.
“I’d hate for them to come in and rearrange some of the stuff that the students are used to,” he said. “… Anything from faculty changes, to changes in operations and the way things are run.”