Nevada continues to evolve demographically, socially and economically. The Nevada of 10 years from now will be dramatically different from the Nevada of today. To meet future challenges and opportunities, we must ensure our education and economic systems are prepared and aligned.

The Lincy Institute has long advocated for Nevada decision-makers to envision a new future for our state. We have called on policymakers to proactively adapt, reform and integrate economic and workforce development, education and social services systems to better position our state to compete against regional peers. We continue that call by encouraging state leaders to approve renaming Nevada State College to Nevada State University.

As Nevada State’s President DeRionne Pollard noted during her remarks at a recent Board of Regents meeting, studies confirm that colleges that have become universities experience appreciable increases in enrollment. Indeed, between 2001 and 2016, 122 four-year colleges in America changed their name from “College” to “University.” According to the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, those that changed their name to “University” experienced a 5.2% increase in first-time students within five years and an increase of 7.2% after six years.

Having three publicly identified universities in our state would communicate to external constituencies the region’s commitment to preparing an educated and trained workforce. Among its national peers, only one other school similar to Nevada State in the western United States still uses “College”; 95% of western four-year institutions use “University.” Nationally, 317 out of 334 of NSC peers use “University” while only 16 use “College.”

While the proposal has been met with resistance from the Board of Regents, Nevada has a history of evolving its higher education institutions in response to changing community and economic needs. For instance, all of Nevada’s community colleges have evolved considerably since their founding, either through name changes or increasing their charges to provide four-year degrees. UNR has undergone significant changes as recently as 2021, when it absorbed the operations of Lake Tahoe’s Sierra Nevada University, an institution that itself changed its name from Sierra Nevada College in 2020 for many of the same reasons Nevada State proposes.

The reasons for a name change are compelling. Nevada State is already doing the work of a university by educating students in areas of critical workforce development shortages, namely education and nursing. Nevada State also grants graduate degrees in speech-language pathology.

There is widespread community support for the name change, including from the business communities that Nevada State serves. Nevada State students, the majority of whom are from underserved communities, would benefit from earning degrees that carry a university imprimatur. Finally, the name change is an important symbolic step that communicates that the state and region are prepared to invest in our human capital and the future generations of Nevadans.

Changing Nevada State’s name would not immediately close the gap in the number of nurses, health care workers, teachers, biologists, mathematicians or psychologists the region needs. Achieving these crucial outcomes will require vision, support and resources in the coming years from elected leaders, community advocates and the regents. Increasing the number of publicly identified universities in Nevada, however, would let our residents and business leaders know that we are committed to meeting the demands of the region’s present and future economic and social needs.

Unfortunately, during the last couple of regents meetings, Pollard and Nevada State supporters appeared to be blindsided by resistance to the name change by members of the board and NSHE staff. This was disappointing, yet not surprising given the regents and NSHE’s long history of short-changing the Greater Las Vegas Area higher education needs.

The suggestion by Regent Laura Perkins to clearly define what a state university is and is not can help quell some of the resistance. Hopefully, with the infusion of new regent members, the favoritism, pettiness and personal rivalries that have consumed the current board will give way to mature leadership focused on creating a robust and inclusive system of higher education.

Magdalena Martinez is an associate professor at UNLV and director of education programs at the Lincy Institute.

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