Goal-oriented Nevada higher education system gets new focus

Five months after Thom Reilly took the helm of the Nevada System of Higher Education as chancellor, he crossed one major to-do item off his list.

The state Board of Regents on Friday adopted the five strategic goals he proposed late last year to lead the system moving forward.

“This was a big push and they are kind of simple, but we wanted them to be simple to resonate,” Reilly said, adding that the positive feedback he’s received from the community and state lawmakers affirms the move.

“They’re saying ‘Yeah, this is it. These are the ones you should be focusing on.’”

The goals include increasing access to higher education; improving student success; closing the achievement gap; addressing state workforce needs; and co-developing solutions to critical issues facing Nevada.

The board also adopted metrics that coincide with each goal. To measure student success, for example, the board will review graduation rates, awards conferred and persistence rates across the system.

Additionally, each institution chose peer and aspirational institutions with which to compare their progress. The data will be compiled in an interactive dashboard that will be easy for the regents, and the public, to review. UNLV, for example, has chosen San Diego State University as a peer institution, and Arizona State University as an aspirational school.

Reilly’s plan is to ensure that the goals, metrics and peer institutions become the focus — not an afterthought — of every board meeting.

“If you ask what the graduation rate is for Latino students, I don’t think people know what it is because we don’t talk about it,” Reilly said. “Part of it is because we don’t like what we’re seeing. When we start talking about this public, it takes a new focus on it.”

Reilly added that regents will not shy away from tough discussions, and will put school presidents in the hot seat, if need be.

“If you looked at the last two years of agendas, how many times have we actually talked about metrics? On how many of them have we asked, why is your graduation rate not increasing?” Reilly said. “With the outcomes, I think we hold presidents accountable for that.”

The talk of goals occasionally punctuated Friday’s discussion, with several regents asking institution presidents how their decisions related to the new goals.

Prior to a vote to approve a one-time distribution of $25 million due to investment gains, Regent Rick Trachok asked every institution to explain how their uses for the money related to the goals.

“I was more surprised with the regents, that that was in their vocabulary,” Reilly said. “Now they’re talking about, ‘here’s our goals, and that should be our discussion.’ The budget should be built that way and everything should be tied into that. When we add real numbers to this, that’s when it becomes really meaningful.”

Contact Natalie Bruzda at nbruzda@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3897. Follow @NatalieBruzda on Twitter.

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