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The Truth Behind the Sierra Nevada College Layoffs

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“Explain the faculty layoffs” at Sierra Nevada College, said the email that opened the door to this article. Well, can I? I can tell you that the financial pressures on higher education continue across the board, from public to private, top to bottom. The pressures are real, and pressure nearly always results in distress-driven decisions. Enrollment pressure is the kind of stress that leads to confusing outcomes and the belief in conspiracy.

I was terminated this past summer, as were five of my colleagues. I was lucky enough to be re-hired as the interim director of marketing for the same school that had let me go a month earlier. I am here now, ironically working to undo some of the effects caused by the events of the summer of 2017. It seems there is no progress without regression.

The financial pressures facing universities today are very real. Changing demographics and student behavior, shifts in educational funding, the decline in raw numbers of students, and the rebound of the economy have all joined together to drive down enrollment across the country. Like everything in 2017, it is difficult to separate truth from fiction without research and experience.

For SNC Tahoe, from the vantage point of my new position, I can tell you to let go of the speculation — Sierra Nevada College is not trying to become a trade school, a business school, or anything other than a four-year nonprofit destination college. I can tell you, as the product of a liberal arts education, that this kind of training is the best move for a future where human creativity and problem-solving is the only guard against layoff by automation.

Forget about the worries of food service work. In the next 10 years, we will say goodbye to client-level bankers, administrative assistants, legal assistants, and financial advisors. Those entry-level “good jobs” with upward mobility that fresh graduates with four-year degrees get into straight out of college? Their days are numbered.

On the other side of the advance, jobs that involve genuine creativity and complicated relationships with people will survive. If there is anything that Sierra Nevada College is committed to supporting, it is graduates with these qualities. Such support is not news. In fact, our students, and their loud voices this summer in support of those faculty that were let go, attest to this.

For parents, it’s essential to stick to the numbers. A four-year college graduate experiences less unemployment than a high school graduate. A college graduate sees more opportunity and income over their lifetime, regardless of their major. This experience hasn’t and won’t change. Sierra Nevada College graduates beat the national average in earnings and employment after graduation. Our students, coming from our small graduating classes, take up spots in top graduate programs every year, across disciplines.

I returned to work to help this campus to the best of my ability. The department I came from, SNC Fine Arts, was unique in my experience. The students and faculty I connected with there had my back when things got squirrely. I’m here to do the same for them. This small college on the lake and the relationships with students make Sierra Nevada College worth it. What we do for the students who come here is worth it. So, no, I can’t explain the layoffs, it’s not my place. My job is to help make it not happen again. I came back to SNC Tahoe because they told me what I could do to help.

~ Daniel Robert Kelly is a California foothills native, 2013 Fulbright-Nehru Scholar, university instructor, conceptual artist, community organizer, serial entrepreneur, and filmmaker. He is currently president of Gasper Kelly Media and the interim director of marketing for Sierra Nevada College where you are invited to visit anytime.

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Reader comments so far...

ltap1926 | Truckee
I can't post the PBS article in this comment with out it triggering the "spam" warning. But people should read the article titled: After decades of pushing bachelor’s degrees, U.S. needs more tradespeople. It's an amazing article about how our nation is in dire need of young people getting into vocational jobs. I have long been a critic of how our nation has been pushing 4 year degrees down people's throats and in turn giving vocational education and the careers that stem from those programs an image problem of being second class (less than). But when crap hits the fan and your power is off, who are you going to need? A linesman. Or when your sewer line breaks? or when the water shut off? You're going to need people for those trades to get the services up and running. Unfortunately, it isn't until a natural disaster people take notice of the importance of all of those tradespeople. Same thing if you get sick, that's when you appreciate a highly skilled nurse or a respiratory therapist, or even a skilled coder so your bill is correct! This quote from the article states it best: “welders make more money than philosophers.”

TruckeeObserver | U.S.A.
... or an institutional / Sierra Nevada College first approach? As I see it, part of the problem with colleges is that many colleges tend to take an “institution first approach”, rather than a student first approach. I see a need for colleges and college advisors that take a student first approach, and that are neutral and objective in regard to schools. To me, too many college advisors seem to be more salesperson than genuine advisor, and to simply push the product their employer, a college / institution, wants them to push, not the product best suited for each individual, valuable, important, human student. How freely and how often does SNC advise students to explore college options other than SNC, including 4 year schools such as UNR or the Cal State schools, and including online courses from solid, respected, reputable, well ranked schools, where students can enroll for free, complete courses for free, and pay only after they successfully complete a course, and only if they want college credit for the course, such as Arizona State University’s Global Freshman Academy, see ? If I walk into a college advisor’s office at SNC, are they positioned to tell me: "Actually, ASU GFA is the best option for you. Consider going there."? Or will they try tosell me what their employer is selling?

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March 14, 2019