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The true value of a university

To the editor:

In response to the Nov. 14 commentary on UNLV headlined, “The front line of decline”:

A vital university is a community necessity. There is no successful large, urban area in the country that does not have a healthy and productive research university supporting it.

As volunteers in support of higher education in Nevada, we have learned a thing or two about the value that education adds to our community. Education is not a luxury or an extravagance. It improves our lives and the lives of our children, our neighbors, our colleagues, our friends. Education means a higher quality of life for all Nevadans.

Both of us live and work in Las Vegas, and appreciate the opportunity to tell the UNLV story as we see it.

The story began just more than a half century ago. In the academic world, 50 years is a relatively short amount of time. For perspective, UNR was established in 1874 and is more than 80 years older than UNLV. Five decades ago, 28 students began meeting for classes in the dressing rooms of Las Vegas High School’s auditorium; today, UNLV serves more than 28,000 students from every U.S. state and more than 70 countries.

Like Las Vegas, UNLV experienced unprecedented growth over the past 20 years, moving beyond a small, liberal arts institution to a research university growing exponentially in both size and stature. In the beginning. UNLV faculty were hired primarily to teach. As UNLV has grown, more recent hires have been expected not only to excel as classroom instructors but also in mentoring students conducting research, engaging with the community, and publishing their research findings.

Over the years, UNLV has taken steps to raise its academic standards and provide a more challenging experience to students ready for university-level work. The high school grade point average requirement for incoming UNLV freshman increased from an unweighted 2.5 in 2005 to 2.75 in 2006. In 2008, the incoming class had to meet a 3.0 GPA that is weighted in a core curriculum and correlates about a 3.25 overall.

While raising the bar for our students, UNLV has committed to their academic success. One example of this commitment was the creation of the Academic Success Center in 2008. The ASC partners with the entire campus community to both welcome and mentor students from pre-admission to a successful graduation. Last year, the ASC held nearly 20,000 advising, tutoring and academic coaching sessions, keeping more students on track to graduate.

One measure of success for a university is to look at national rankings and recognition. Recently, the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities reaffirmed UNLV’s accreditation based on the Spring 2010 Comprehensive Evaluation and commended UNLV “for its exceptional sense of community and solidarity in the face of literally unprecedented fiscal challenges that were countered by a commitment to transparency and inclusiveness in critical planning by the administration and senate.”

For the past 15 years, the William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration has been named one of the top two hospitality programs in the nation. The William S. Boyd School of Law is ranked 75th in the nation (up 25 spots in just two years), and job placement of law students before graduation has increased steadily to 81 percent over the past three years. Since 2006, UNLV School of Nursing has graduated more than 600 nurses for the acute care hospitals and community agencies in Nevada with a 97,67 percent first-time pass rate on the National Council Licensure Examination.

The UNLV College of Business is one of just 169 institutions worldwide to hold AACSB International accreditation in both business and accounting. AACSB International accreditation represents the highest standard of achievement for business schools, worldwide. Also, for the second year in a row, UNLV’s educational psychology program has been named by U.S. News & World Report as among the top 25 specialty programs in the nation. Two-thirds of UNLV’s Honors College student admits rank in the top 5 percent of their graduating classes and the average high school GPA of entering classes has been 3.8 on a 4.0 scale (unweighted).

Over the past year, UNLV students were honored with national awards, including Truman, Goldwater and Fulbright fellowships. Last month, a UNLV team of student engineers won the grand prize in he Humanitarian Technology Challenge, sponsored by the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers and the United Nations Foundation, for designing a scalable, solar-driven electrical power system that manually tracks the sun to efficiently-and cheaply-turn sunlight into electricity.

If you are not impressed by national rankings and awards, how about UNLV’s economic impact on our region?

For every dollar the state currently invests in UNLV, it generates an additional $4.50 in economic impact, amounting to approximately $1 billion. The faculty at UNLV produce more than $96 million in grants and contracts every year, and those funds help support innovation and discovery that lead to patents and small business formation. The Thomas & Mack Center, Sam Boyd Stadium and Cox Pavilion bring more than 250 events annually to Las Vegas and more than 350,000 patrons attend the Performing Arts Center’s events, providing a vital link between art, culture, and commerce.

UNLV is involved in every aspect of the community, from providing low-cost dental care for more than 57,000 local patients to helping more than 24,000 disadvantaged Clark County middle and high school students in their quest to attend college through the Trio and GEAR UP programs at UNLV’s Center of Academic Enrichment and Outreach. Last year, the libraries at UNLV helped 178,326 members of the general public, students, and faculty via phone, in person, and electronically.

The final proof of a university’s success is not its awards, rankings, publications or dollars — it is in the production of graduates and their accomplishments. UNLV’s 90,000 alumni — nearly two-thirds of whom still reside in Southern Nevada — teach our children, care for our sick, manage our business, design our infrastructure, counsel those in need, inspire our thinkers, protect our rights, preserve our environment and speak for those who don’t have a voice. Some are well-known entertainers, athletes or CEOs. But whether they are in the public eye or behind the scenes, UNLV alumni are working every day, sharing their talents and skills to enrich our community.

Despite tough economic times, UNLV under the leadership of President Neal Smatresk has continued to grow in reputation and partnership with our community. Last year, the Lincy Institute at UNLV was added to strengthen support for the human capital needs of our region. In addition, UNLV began a unique partnership with the Brookings Institution that is bringing impactful research to the issues facing the dynamic and fast-growing Intermountain West region.

Universities are organisms that must be nurtured, amplified, and championed. That is why we continue to serve in our volunteer roles in higher education. We believe in UNLV. We believe in Nevada. And we need to continue to tell the story about our university’s impact on our lives and our community.

We ask that every Nevadan be a champion for education and share a positive story about the importance of education in your life with your legislator.

Mark Alden

Mark Fine

Las Vegas

Mr. Alden serves on the Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents. Mr. Fine chairs the UNLV Foundation Board of Trustees.

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