UNLV aims for future as top research university

Two decades, restored state funding and private investment are what officials say it will take for UNLV to become a top research university.

Acting President Don Snyder shared the university’s 20-year plan to become a Carnegie Tier 1 research institution Wednesday during a Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, an independent policy and research center, places doctorate-granting universities into three tiers: Tier 1 or very high research activity, Tier 2 or high research activity and doctoral/research universities.

UNLV earned the foundation’s high research designation in 2010 but is working to become Tier 1 to compete with Arizona State University, University of Utah, University of Colorado-Boulder and University of Oregon, which have similar profiles and Tier 1 ratings.

The universities identified are public universities in the Mountain West region and are not land grant institutions. Three of the four do not have medical schools.

“Way out here is Stanford University,” Snyder said, pointing to an outlier on a graphic showing university research designations. “We’re not going to be there in any of our lifetimes, but we absolutely will be here (in the company of aforementioned Tier 1 universities) and need to be here for us to give to the business community what the business community needs.”

The University of Nevada, Las Vegas Center for Business and Economic Research found that UNLV’s economic contribution locally totals $4.5 billion, representing 4.7 percent of total economic activity. With Tier 1 status, the center estimates UNLV could contribute $8.9 billion, or 8.9 percent, to the Las Vegas economy.

The Carnegie Foundation bases tiers on graduation rates, doctoral degrees awarded, research grant and contract expenditures, faculty size and research professionals, including scientists, postdoctoral scholars and librarians.

To move to the next level, UNLV will focus on increasing faculty size, campus size and grant activity.

These improvements rely on increased funding from the state and private parties. Specifically, UNLV is seeking $60 million in state funding that was cut by lawmakers during hard economic times. It also wants state and community money for infrastructure, government and private grants to increase research and funds to improve graduation rates.

Estimated building costs are $800 million, which would be funded mainly through charges applied to research funding.

UNLV has 780 faculty members whereas the 108 Carnegie Tier 1 universities in the nation average 1,200. Its campus lacks 200,000 square feet of lab space and 400,000 square feet overall compared with competitors. Its sponsored research totals less than $30 million per year, about $80 million behind similar universities.

In 10 years, UNLV plans to increase full-time instructional faculty to 1,200, add 250 research support staff positions and add 400,000 square-feet to the campus. Officials hope to raise graduation rates to 60 percent, with graduate students accounting for 25 percent of the total student population. For undergraduates in 2013, the four-year graduation rate was 14.6 percent, and the six-year rate was 42.9 percent.

In 20 years, the university wants to have $120 million in grant and contract expenditures, 160 postdoctoral researchers who are paid through outside funds, 200 doctorates per year and 30 graduate programs ranked in the top 100.

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