Higher Education’s Mission Remains Unchanged and Just as Important as Ever

R. Marsh Starks / UNLV Photo Services
UNLV Spring 2016 Commencement morning session held at the Thomas and Mack Center on May 14, 2016.

By Cathy McAdoo, Amy Carvalho, and Dale Erquiaga

From its inception, Nevada has demonstrated a commitment to higher education and an awareness of the need for our residents to have the skills and knowledge necessary for success. Our state Constitution established a university and, since 1874, we have benefited from a continuous presence of public higher education institutions.

We were recently named to three of the leadership positions in the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE): chair and vice Chair of the Board of Regents (NSHE’s elected governing body), and acting chancellor (the system’s chief executive officer). Together with the eleven other regents and eight institutional presidents, we are committed to embracing this moment in history to fulfill the vision of those who long ago committed the Silver State to a path lighted by the opportunities only education can provide.

NSHE, like any other organization, is not perfect. We have had our challenges, particularly in the last year. Conflict between board members and the chancellor played out in public; a chancellor departed in April. There has been turnover in system staff and questions about hiring processes. We recognize this poses challenges for us as leaders and for the system as a whole. But we are committed to meeting those challenges head on and treating this moment as an opportunity to engage with all who are willing to improve the culture, climate, and offerings of our diverse institutions of learning.

In academic year 2020-21, more than 20,000 students graduated from our colleges and universities, with awards as varied as an associate degree in criminal justice, a bachelor’s degree in engineering, a master’s in public health, PhDs in astronomy and brain sciences, and almost every imaginable credential in between. The 105,000 students who will return to our campuses this fall will similarly be in pursuit of everything from workforce credentials to advanced research doctoral degrees.

Our institutions, our faculty and staff, and most importantly our students are the face of Nevada’s future. Our goal is to support every aspect of education — from the faculty and staff who are so critical to instructing our students, to the students whose future will be shaped in large part by the degree or credential they earn.

The fact that we have two nationally ranked research universities and a world-renowned research institute within Nevada’s borders means that students are learning from some of the best minds in their chosen field. They can work on innovative programs often not found anywhere else. And the close-knit relationships between our state and community colleges, the business community, and economic development agencies – urban and rural, north and south – means that Nevadans seeking new skills in an ever-changing economy can likely find a training program right in their backyard.

Our mission has not changed since 1874: To provide higher education to the citizens of the state at an excellent level of quality consistent with the state’s resources. We and our leadership colleagues are pledged to be fiscally responsible and ever vigilant in building a strong economy for this great state. It is a daunting but crucial endeavor that will ultimately mean a better Nevada for every resident.

Statistics from before the pandemic make it clear that college-educated individuals were much less likely to be unemployed. Even as the economy restructures in these post-pandemic times, we know that jobs of the future will demand more workers with at least some college education. A host of other statistics – from lifetime earning potential to annual retirement income, volunteerism to voting participation – all point to the value of a college education.

As we begin a new fiscal year and prepare for a new academic year, we are committed to moving beyond where we’ve been and working together on behalf of all Nevadans, because we know this: “Education is an ornament in prosperity and a refuge in adversity.” That statement is as true today as it was when it was first uttered over 2,000 years ago by Aristotle. Education changes lives for the better, and the Nevada System of Higher Education is changing the future of Nevada.