Moving Nevada Forward with an Economic Vision

Gov. Brian Sandoval has made Nevada’s economic vitality a priority for his administration and invests time and energy to that end.  Along the way he is learning, as are many Nevadans, about what our public higher education system can do to help and what it needs to do better.  

For decades, Nevada’s colleges and universities responded to the state’s priorities. As a result, we have world-class postsecondary programs in hospitality, gaming, mining and construction — industries that have been the foundation of Nevada’s economy.  However, we have all learned the inadequacy of relying upon only these economic sectors in the Great Recession and recognize that Nevada must diversify to gain economic strength. 

Our colleges and universities stand ready to adjust to new priorities of the state.  Responding to market demand, we currently provide quality education and training in sustainable technologies, health care, and other high-tech fields. But we must go further and we need the governor and Legislature to partner with us to refine our priorities and identify new sectors to target. 

As one of Nevada’s college presidents, I welcome the governor’s focus on economic development and his initiatives to bring greater vitality to Nevada.  However, priorities need to be clear and investments need to be made.  We cannot cut our way to a strong economic future. 

The governor recommends reducing higher education’s state support by $162 million in the next two years.  Such a recommendation negates his economic goals and deprives the colleges and universities of a chance to help the state shape its economic future. 

Nearly 114,000 students are enrolled in Nevada colleges and universities, 66,500 or 58 percent of whom attend community colleges.  All of these students should be seen as Nevada’s future workforce, worthy of public investment, even those who are not focused on graduating. Not all high-tech industries require college degrees but they do need highly skilled employees, which community colleges have been producing for America since the beginning of the 20th Century.  Many of our students do not intend to graduate and only enroll in a few classes. They may transfer before earning a degree or enroll to gain new skills and return to the market place.  In time, we may see them enroll again for additional training. But enrollment flexibility and access is a hallmark of Nevada’s four community colleges.

Yet, of greatest value during these economic times, is the agility of the community colleges to offer training and education that is market responsive.   Community colleges can quickly meet the needs of new employers and develop the workforce required in Nevada’s new economic sectors.  CSN has done this in health care, construction, green technology and many other fields for 40 years. We contract with more than 100 different businesses, government agencies and non-profits each year to provide work-skills training and customized on-demand courses. Great Basin College has provided targeted services for the mining sector of Nevada’s economy.  Truckee Meadows has added sustainable technology training to its portfolio.  All of these initiatives benefit Nevada and lay a foundation for our economic future.

Now is a time to use Nevada higher education.  Invest in it.  As economic priorities of the future are identified, task the colleges and universities with developing curricula that will train highly qualified employees in targeted sectors.  We’re ready to respond.  We have a record of success among students and employers.  Invest in the research capability of DRI, UNLV and UNR.  Invest in the training and teaching capabilities of CSN, GBC, NSC, TMCC and WNC.  Use these remarkable state assets for the economic vitality of Nevada.

Nevada’s institutions can respond and implement performance measurements that hold us accountable to taxpayers.  Every dollar in state support invested in higher education results in $4.39 of economic activity for the state.  At CSN, the state’s investment of $100.1 million returns $864 million to Nevadans each year.  Every state college and university can demonstrate economic and public benefits.

As the Legislature continues its deliberations, let’s move Nevada forward with an economic vision and with the capability of higher education to realize that vision.

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