Washington, D.C., Nov. 24, 2008—Nevada has developed a booming economy in less than 50 years, most significantly through the gaming and hospitality industries, which employ more than 25 percent of the workforce. However, in order to sustain its prosperity in today’s volatile economic conditions, it is necessary for Nevada to attract new industries that offer high-skill, high-wage jobs. Nevada ranks among the nation’s weakest in postsecondary educational attainment and therefore must make significant investments in promoting a college-going culture so that its residents can be prepared to meet demands of the new knowledge-based economy.
According to a new study by the Institute for Higher Education Policy, Shaping Nevada’s Future: What the State Can Do to Invest in College Access and Success, an investment in higher education can lead to significant economic benefits for Nevada and its residents. The report uses a variety of existing data sources—along with interviews with state and local policymakers, K–12 and higher education officials, students, and citizens of Nevada—to explore the barriers that Nevada students face in their pursuit of postsecondary education. The study shows that many students—particularly those from low-income families and minority groups—are finding it difficult to gain access to and succeed in college.
Challenges in Nevada’s Postsecondary Education
- Barriers to Access: Only 28 percent of Nevada residents between the ages of 18 and 24 were enrolled in college in 2006, compared with 41 percent for the top states in this category. Barriers to college access in Nevada include inadequate academic preparation at the K-12 level; the rising costs of higher education; a lack of need-based financial aid to help cover these costs; and, for students whose parents did not attend college, inadequate access to information about the college admissions process.
- Barriers to Success: As of 2005, the retention rate at four-year public institutions in Nevada was 71 percent—5 percent below the national average; at two-year public institutions, the retention rate was 46 percent—6 percent below the national average. The six year graduation rate for Nevada bachelor’s degree students in 2007 was 38 percent—18 percent below the national average. Barriers to college success in Nevada include difficulties in transferring from community colleges to four-year institutions, and the large number of college students who attend part time, which can reduce their chances of completing a degree.
"Although Nevada's barriers to higher education are similar to those found across the nation, they are complicated by the state’s unique economic situation," said IHEP President Michelle Asha Cooper, Ph.D. "These circumstances make it difficult for Nevada and its residents to reap the full benefits brought on by success in postsecondary education—limiting the state's chances to pursue new business opportunities that would likely produce additional social and economic rewards."
To help overcome the barriers faced by Nevada students, IHEP recommends:
- Increase Targeted Financial Aid. Provide more need-based financial aid, especially for students from low-income families and minority groups.
- Emphasize Academic Preparation. Expand high school reform initiatives, create new efforts to recruit and retain qualified teachers, and renew involvement with the American Diploma Project and similar college readiness initiatives.
- Facilitate the Process of Transfer. Partner with local colleges and universities to better align course requirements that help to increase transfer rates.
- Make Postsecondary Success a State Priority. Offer financial incentives to institutions based on their performance in retaining and graduating students.
Developing new investments in college access and success will require the participation of three primary institutional stakeholders in Nevada: the education sector, the business community, and the state government. A stronger and more coordinated relationship among these stakeholders will help ensure the level of accountability and transparency that is essential to make higher education accessible and affordable to every Nevadan.
The full report, Shaping Nevada’s Future: What the State Can Do to Invest in College Access and Success, was funded by USA Funds and the Nevada System of Higher Education and is available for download on IHEP’s Web site at www.ihep.org. The study complements IHEP’s research portfolio on state higher education systems, which includes the following reports: Creating Change One Step At a Time: Efforts to Improve College Access and Success in Indiana; Developmental Education and College Opportunity in New England: Lessons for a National Study of State and System Policy Impact ; Higher Education in Michigan: Overcoming Challenges to Expand Access; Investing in Arizona's Future: College Access, Affordability, and the Impact of Investment in Need-Based Financial Aid; and Mississippi's Mandate: Why the Investment in Education Pays off in Mississippi.