UNLV president envisions future as a top research university

University of Nevada, Las Vegas President Neal Smatresk has a straightforward aspiration — make the campus one of the nation’s top research universities.

It’s a status UNLV could attain in 15 years, he said on Thursday. But it won’t happen without investing millions of dollars in the institution.

“Our goal is to be in the top 2.3 percent,” Smatresk told an audience that filled the university’s Judy Bayley Theatre during his annual State of the University address.

A top research university would have a major economic impact on the state, he said. It would help improve health care and the quality of life for those living in the region and attract new industries to the area, he added.

But how does the university transition from talking about this goal to making it a reality?

“We need to make sure everyone on campus is engaged,” he said.

Among several changes the university would have to make to attain the goal would be to add anywhere between 250 to 300 more faculty members at the cost of about $40 million more in state funding.

Today, UNLV has 780 full-time faculty members. The school added about 180 faculty members over the past two years, Smatresk said.

The university also would also have to grow its endowment aggressively to be nationally competitive, he said. Its endowment market value stands at about $168 million, a sharp increase from four years ago when it was valued at $93 million when Smatresk took the reins as president.

UNLV also received more than $50 million in donations last school year.

The commuter school also needs to graduate more students and develop a plan to measure its progress over time.

How quickly the university moves toward becoming a top research university also will depend on how soon the state wants to invest and see its return on the investment, Smatresk said.

Smatresk also recapped some of the accomplishments the school has had over the past year. Last year, officials focused on enrollment management, and those efforts resulted in the largest freshman class ever this fall semester.

“We welcome not just the largest, but the most talented and most diverse class,” he told the audience.

This week, UNLV ranked as the sixth-most diverse university in the country, up two spots from last year, according to the 2014 U.S. News and World Report best college rankings.

In addition, about 13 new faculty members over the past year submitted research proposals totaling $20 million dollars, said Thomas Piechota, interim vice president for research and dean of the graduate college.

Contact reporter Yesenia Amaro at yamaro@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0440.