Sierra Nevada College finds partner | SierraSun.com

Sierra Nevada College finds partner

Tom Meyer
Sun News Service

INCLINE VILLAGE ” Sierra Nevada College entered into negotiations on Friday to partner with Knowledge Universe Learning Group, a for-profit investment holding company with an emphasis on education, after a decision by its board of trustees to forego collaboration with another institution.

College officials were quick to point out that SNC will retain its character, curriculum and nonprofit status.

“This is partnership, not an acquisition,” SNC Board of Trustees chairman John Altman said.

The agreement is expected to be finalized by January, at which point Altman and board vice chairman Dr. Atam Lalchandani will resign and be replaced with new board members nominated by KU, but approved by the other trustees.

“This is a decision that is philanthropic, not just business,” Altman added.

SNC officials said KU beat out an offer made jointly by the University of Nevada, Reno and the Desert Research Institute.

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Officials said the offer from the public institutions would not have kept the school’s autonomy in tact.

Under the agreement, Large said SNC will tap into KU’s substantial marketing forces to attract a larger student body, between 1,000 and 1,200 students, within a few years.

SNC’s current enrollment is about 280.

Some trustees feel the partnership will be the end to the school’s hand-to-mouth financial strains it has dealt with since its inception. In essence, part of KU’s $1.75 billion assets will become available to SNC in lieu of an endowment.

“This partnership will give us the possibly to elevate the profile of SNC,” said Large. “Right now, the college is not well branded and if you go any more than a few miles out of Incline Village, its hard to find someone who’s heard of us. This partnership will give us a whole lot more exposure to more students.”

In exchange, SNC will provide KU with its first and only bricks-and-mortar institution, which they will use to augment their for-profit, on-line distance learning program and joint venture called Cardean University.

“We’re on the frontier of a new paradigm in higher education,” said trustee Altman. “It provides a platform for the expansion of their mission of distance learning.”

Large said SNC’s focus on entrepreneurship, hospitality studies and environmental science would remain at the center of its core curriculum, and KU executives said they hope to use their on-line programs to have SNC grow in that direction.

“The partnership may allow them to forge new graduate programs in those fields,” said Ted Sanders, who is both the chairman of Cardean and vice-chairman of KU.

Sanders, who also served as the acting secretary of education during George H.W. Bush’s administration, said one of the best opportunities the new partnership offers is the chance to use SNC’s facilities and expertise to provide graduate-level courses. “If you were doing a research project about water quality you couldn’t do that on-line and would benefit from doing a residency at the college. There’s nothing like having on the ground or clinical type experience.”

KU was founded in 1996 by financier Michael Milken, his brother Lowell, and by the Larry Ellison, the founder of Oracle Corporation. In the last decade, KU has acquired a substantial number of both for-profit companies and non-profit institutions in the education field.

In addition to Cardean University, the company also owns a national pre-kindergarten chain with 200,000 students (Knowledge Learning Centers), the third-largest toy manufacturer in the U.S. (LeapFrog Enterprises, Inc.), and an on-line teacher training company (Teacher Universe).

Milken, known as the “junk bond king” in the 1980s, plead guilty to trading irregularities and was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 1990. He is a resident of Incline Village and had been helping fund the Fourth of July fireworks displays town throughout his decade of residency.