The Nevada Board of Regents recently signed off on a plan that will fold Tahoe’s Sierra Nevada University into the University of Nevada, Reno. First announced in early July, the merger could be complete as early as fall 2022, but the schools have to get approval from a number of other educational regulatory agencies. KUNR’s Paul Boger spoke with UNR President Brian Sandoval to talk about the process.
Paul Boger: Sir, let’s start at the beginning. When did this all start, you know, who approached whom in this?
Brian Sandoval: I was approached the first part of June to see if we would be interested in a transfer of the assets of Sierra Nevada University, which is a phenomenal, phenomenal, small liberal arts college up in Incline Village, and of course we’d be interested. We’ve worked with Sierra Nevada University over the years, particularly with Lake Tahoe research on water clarity and such, but we obviously needed to do some due diligence to see what was associated with it, but that’s when it first happened.
Boger: On that front, what is the situation at SNU? What is their financial situation, for instance?
Sandoval: You know, their enrollment is down, particularly as a result of COVID. They are a stable university but not sustainable under the current financial model that they have. There have been a group of people who’ve been very generous and very supportive of that university through the years, but they recognized that, again, that it wasn’t sustainable. They wanted to maintain an academic presence in Incline Village and saw UNR as the best partner to achieve that goal.
It’s an incredibly beautiful campus that has dormitories, that has a library, that has a research center, classrooms. My son actually graduated from there, so I’m very familiar with the campus, and having done the due diligence, we found the campus to be in incredible condition.
The transfer would be a complete transfer of that campus and all the buildings, buildings on it with literally no debt that it included an endowment. So it truly was an opportunity of a lifetime on several levels, but it also requires some approvals. It had to require approval of the UNR Foundation; it would be a transfer of that gift to the UNR Foundation. Thereafter, board of regents, and that was a, you know, very important step. A presentation was made to the board of regents, which ultimately resulted in a vote of 13 to 0 to approve the transfer of assets. But as I said at that meeting, that’s the beginning of the beginning.
Boger: So what does that mean?
Sandoval: We have to work with the United States Department of Education. We have to work with the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities and work with them to ensure that the students up there are protected. And as I mentioned, there are 200 undergrad, 350 graduate students. We want to make sure that their credits will all transfer — and they all will transfer — to the university. So we have our provost who’s working on that. We also have to work with the Nevada Commission on Postsecondary Education. Those are three groups that we are going to work very closely with.
SNU will continue to be a going concern in the next academic year. They’re fully accredited by the NWCCU, just like the University of Nevada, Reno is, and we’re hopeful and optimistic but not certain that the beginning of the academic year in 2022 is when that acquisition will take place and the SNU students will become the University of Nevada, Reno students.
Boger: At this point, you know, what is the future? What are the plans for that campus up at Tahoe?
Sandoval: I definitely want to maintain the curriculum that’s up there right now. And, you know, part of the, I’ll call it the “secret sauce” up there, is the amazing intimacy and environment that they have there. And that’s something we definitely want to preserve. They have a very robust performing arts series. Classical Tahoe is going on right now. They have a speaker series that we’d love to maintain. I think the sky’s the limit in terms of the opportunities. ... There’s research going on there right now, and we see more opportunities. We have some of the foremost water researchers on planet Earth here on our campus that do work at Tahoe. So it provides more opportunities for them. We do groundbreaking forest health research; that’ll be an opportunity there as well. We have a 4H camp in South Lake Tahoe, and I can foresee the young kids that are there can perhaps spend a half a day on the campus there, learning about research. But in terms of the curriculum, the students will continue to attend class up there. We’re hopeful that more students will see the opportunities that are there, but we think that we can use that campus 364 days a year.
As a note of disclosure, the Nevada System of Higher Education owns the license to this station.