By Duane Johnson
Northern Nevada Business Weekly
As Great Basin College (GBC) based in Elko marks its golden anniversary in 2017, it does so while experiencing a period of change and growth.
Founded in 1967 as a wo-year college, GBC has served its niche as a primary higher education option for residents in northeastern Nevada, although it touts itself as a pioneer in interactive video conferencing via satellite campuses throughout the state.
Along with its long distance program, the institution expanded its curriculum by adding a few four-year degrees.
In 2016, the college added bachelor’s of arts degrees in English and social sciences, as well as a bachelor’s of science in biological sciences and associated of arts and sciences degrees in emergency medical services.
Kayla McCarson, associate director of marketing and communications for GBC, said the added degrees, especially in the healthcare industry, were established to help develop needed skilled workforce in Elko and other rural communities.
“In rural areas, there’s a real shortage of healthcare professionals, particularly the pharmaceutical and paramedic fields,” McCarson said.
Great Basin College president Mark Curtis, whose tenure ends on July 31, helped spearhead the movement to add the degree programs. He said a key to GBC offering new medical programs is through recommendations made from the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine. “I would like to give a sincere thanks to Dean Thomas Schwenk of the University of Nevada School of Medicine who extended a strong letter of support for our B.S. in biological science degree,” Curtis said in a released statement provided by GBC.
McCarson explained GBC has faced challenges to alleviate the workforce shortage in other industries. For instance, while McCarson lauded the college’s elementary and secondary education department, she admits it’s been very difficult to find enough qualified teachers, which are desperately needed at the rural K-12 school systems.
“Even if we have a 100 percent graduation rate in the education degree program, we still can’t meet the needs we have now,” McCarson said.
But in turn, the college has had its share of success stories along the way. During his term as president, Curtis advocated workforce development for the region’s major industries including mining. The Career and Technical Education program at GBC offers degree and certification programs to fill jobs in that industry.
Northeastern Nevada’s major industries, particularly mining, have been huge benefactors for GBC. Last spring, Barrick Gold, along with Cisco and GBC partnered to introduce Cisco Networking Academy, an IT education program that covers all ranges of training, from exploratory courses to foundational certification courses and advanced networking and programming courses to surrounding communities.
Dr. Joyce Helens takes over as president of GBC on Aug. 1 and appears to have plans to continue to strengthen programs already in place.
Helens previously served as president at St. Cloud State Technical and Community College in Minnesota and was recognized for building a strong careeer and technical education and workforce development programs at the school. She has also served in other community college leadership positions in Alaska, Oregon, Texas, and Washington.
“It’s really exciting for GBC to have Helens on board,” McCarson said. “I think with her background, she will hit the ground running and continue what Dr. Curtis already has built at GBC.”
Statistics provided by Great Basin College indicated the school had an enrollment of 3,397 full-time and part-time students in fall semester 2016, with about 73 percent of the student classified as part-time. A little more than 1,600 enrolled on the main Elko campus. The vast majority of students come from northeastern Nevada, although a handful come from out of state.
About 30 percent of GBC’s 30 degree and certification programs are available entirely online. Currently, 58 percent of its students are enrolled in online courses. McCarson said more four-year programs could become available online.
With its four-year degree programs and favorable tuition, McCarson said GBC may look to market itself more outside of northeastern Nevada region.