UNLV President Marta Meana began her second State of the University address with a message of purpose.
During a 30-minute speech Oct. 16 at UNLV’s Judy Bayley Theatre, Meana said the world – and particularly institutions of higher learning – now exist in a moment of disruption which brings both opportunity and risk. The opportunity to expand, refine and improve the institution’s purpose, and the risk of veering from the origins of why universities exist.
In higher education, Meana said, universities have historically acted as gatekeepers, exclusive places with an approach that was “based on the illusion of meritocracy blind to the impediments of adversity, gender, race, culture, and socio-economic status.”
Instead, she said, UNLV must exist as a place of opportunity for each of its record 31,000-plus students. As the largest university in the state, the university’s success will shape the future of the region and, more importantly, of individual lives.
“We have an opportunity to change that legacy, to make this university the gate opener rather than the gate keeper,” Meana said. “We are now not in the business of keeping people out, but in the business of going out of our way to facilitate the success of every student.”
Universities must set the example, she said, of innovation, openness, and civility. “We may archive and analyze the past, but our mission is the future of our students, community, and society.”
Growth and Student Success
In addition to a record-high fall enrollment – which includes an all-time high incoming class of more than 4,400 – UNLV’s students are staying in school and graduating at higher rates than ever before.
UNLV’s first-year retention – the rate of first-time, full-time freshmen who return for a second year – is up to 79.4% from 75.9%; and the six-year graduation rate continues to rise and is now at 44.8%. Both the retention and graduation rates have reached all-time highs.
In speaking directly to the faculty and staff, Meana pointed to these achievements and the incredible responsibility employees have to be a part of a university community that is growing at a time when college enrollments nationwide are in decline.
“We move students to their careers, we move knowledge toward solutions, and we help our community address dilemmas,” Meana said. “Not everyone gets to have a job that improves people’s lives. It’s a great responsibility but also a great joy to be a part of something so central to our democracy and to our forward trajectory.”
Meana shared numerous examples of student success over the past year in the classroom and in competition, including national championships for business students in marketing and accounting, a record GPA for UNLV student-athletes, and, to a round of applause, that the Fremont Cannon is painted red.
Becoming More Entrepreneurial
To support student success, Meana said that higher education institutions nationwide – including UNLV – need to find new sources of revenue to bolster state support and keep pace with growth.
She pointed to Tuition +, a new program that will help bridge the financial gap for Pell-eligible Nevada resident undergraduates whose aid packages don’t cover the full cost of tuition and books. Another example is the MGM College Opportunity Program, which allows MGM employees to take online classes at UNLV and other Nevada System of Higher Education institutions at no cost to them. MGM will pay the employees' tuition as part of their professional development.
“These types of community support programs are essential,” Meana said. “It is incumbent upon us to identify new sources of revenue and think with more of an entrepreneurial mindset, which we can achieve as part of the most entrepreneurial city in the world.”
Private support is also essential, and Meana announced that more than $74.3 million was raised during the last fiscal year, including nearly $1 million during the university’s inaugural Rebels Give Day in October 2018.
Building on R1
Meana ended her address with a call for the university to “continue expanding the research, creative and scholarly activity that serves this community and world.”
UNLV’s recent designation as a Carnegie R1, or “very high research,” university is a milestone reserved for just 3% of the nation’s top institutions.
“The fact that in just 60 years, UNLV is even in the ballpark of that list is a testament to the collective effort of past and current faculty, staff, and students,” Meana said. “It has taken most universities over a century to get there. Just nine of the 130 universities listed were our age or younger.”
She then told stories of scientists working on NASA’s Mars 2020 mission, of psychologists expanding access to mental health services throughout the state, of neuroscientists tackling the devastating impact of Alzheimer’s disease, and of workforce development across the health sciences with a direct tie to improved quality of life for our community.
The state of the university, Meana said, is that UNLV is making it happen.
“We are embracing the disruption by being gate openers, but we are honoring our legacy by remaining stalwart defenders of freedom of thought and expression and the intrinsic value of people of different identities, colors, and cultures coming together to share their intellect, experiences and humanity.”
UNLV has come a long way in a short period of time, Meana said, pointing to the strong passion and energy that has and continues to characterize the university.
“We are Rebels and we can make happen whatever we set our minds and hearts on.”
Watch the full 2019 State of the University address at unlv.edu/sotu