Since its beginning in 1957, UNLV's mission has been to fulfill Southern Nevada's need for advanced education. From the beginning, we worked to expand opportunities for Nevada's students and to develop a well-prepared workforce, thoughtful leaders, and engaged citizens.

In the 1960s, we began to offer four-year degrees. In the 1970s, we expanded to master's degrees and some Ph.D. programs. In the 1980s and early 1990s, UNLV began to emerge in another role: as an urban research university — one that supports regional economic development and contributes to a healthy, culturally enriched, and globally aware community.

During the 2000s, this mission was articulated more fully. In 2007, the campus produced its "Focus 50 to 100 strategic plan," and in 2010 added a statement of "Core Themes." We began tracking benchmarks toward achieving our ambitious goals in education, research, and community service.

From 2008-12, budget cuts challenged this vision, but UNLV preserved a solid foundation through targeted cuts. Now, as the region recovers from the Great Recession, we are once again moving forward with a formalized effort to reflect on our mission and achieve our ambitions.

The formal strategic thinking exercise that we called the Path to Tier One was a part of the university's evolution, but one that we believe will also transform UNLV and become a pivotal moment for our city, state, and region. In order to develop a more robust and comprehensive plan, Path to Tier One was reformed and became the Top Tier Initiative.

Top Tier: Our Path

UNLV has always been an ambitious university with a longstanding mission to serve its growing and dynamic region.

The UNLV Top Tier Initiative (formerly called the Path to Tier One) is an extension of our vision of being recognized as one of the top American research universities, as designated by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, as a Very High Research Activity (R1) University.

The best way to envision the importance of being an R1 University is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition of becoming a fully-functioning, Top Tier University. Top Tier means:

  • a superb student educational experience;
  • faculty members engaged in high-quality research, scholarship, and creative activity, whether or not that research, scholarship, or creative activity leads to increases in research expenditures or the graduation of more Ph.D. students;
  • an academic health center that has a fully accredited medical school that is integrated with the other health science units as well as with faculty members whose research overlaps with the health science division;
  • a clearer gateway to facilitate community partnerships with UNLV; and
  • a significantly better functioning infrastructure that provides meaningful opportunities for shared governance.

During 2014-2015, we worked to develop a comprehensive, data-driven plan that further defined our vision, assessed our current environment, identified needs and the associated costs, and then set forth strategies and tactics for addressing those needs. Through the work of campus and community constituents, we formally assessed the university and strategically analyzed what it takes to become a Top Tier Institution. We examined our organizational structure, our policies and culture, and our leadership and staffing. The process resulted in agreed-upon, transparent, and measurable goals for moving forward.

The planning process led to amending our mission as we defined our vision, mission, goals, and strategies. The university recognized that the Top Tier strategic plan requires ongoing work and reflection. To that end, UNLV leadership initiated both a broad and in-depth review in fall 2017 through summer 2018. In addition to the core theme/pathway goal objectives and metrics, secondary objectives were developed along with supporting key measures and indicators that demonstrate success. These measures provide a clear picture of year-to-year progress, supplement the core themes/pathway goal and their metrics, and consist of both quantitative and qualitative measures. During the 2018-19 academic year, key metrics were identified that placed extra emphasis on retention, graduation rates, research expenditures, doctoral degrees, non-faculty researchers, and community impact.

The Top Tier Plan

The university recognizes the importance of Infrastructure and Shared Governance in all aspects, and this foundational goal area is measured and monitored as part of the strategic plan. An improved infrastructure and a healthy shared government model are both pivotal in order to accomplish the four core themes/pathway goals. The university continually develops and leverages the conditions necessary for success, which includes an effective organizational structure, an improved infrastructure, a service-oriented culture, meaningful faculty engagement in shared governance, and the capacity for informed decision-making and informed risk-taking.

In addition to the foundational goal of Infrastructure and Shared Governance, there are four core themes/pathway goal areas:

  • Student Achievement
  • Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity
  • Academic Health Center
  • Community Partnerships
Graphical representation of the six core areas and how the foundational areas relate back to all six core areas.

Our Path Forward

The planning process resulted in a map to guide the university as we continue forward. The Top Tier Initiative is an ongoing plan that clearly guides our efforts through 2025. University leadership continually engages in reflective and analytic processes to review and assess goals, objectives, actions, and metrics in order to align with our Top Tier mission. Some of this journey is within UNLV's control, but some of it depends on the resources and investments that the community, state, and private partners are willing to make.

With the will and hard work of our faculty, staff, and students and investment from our public and private partners, UNLV achieved a monumental component of the Top Tier Initiative through designation from the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education as a top 130 university in the United States, more commonly known as an R1: Very High Research Activity. Being a Carnegie R1 university elevates our efforts to further support our outstanding faculty and students, recruit new members to our university, and power even more research, economic development, and creative activities. While we’ve achieved the Carnegie’s R1 ranking, we still have much work to do as this is not our final destination. Our Top Tier efforts include continual actions focused on student success, community impact, academic health, and further work to help maintain this Carnegie designation. Our Top Tier journey continues, and we can do even more together!


The timeline below explains how the current work, the Top Tier Initiative, has emerged from UNLV's history. It illustrates how UNLV struggled to find the point of entry to a Path to Tier One. The projections, nomenclature, and even the spelling of "Tier One" vary, reflecting that this initiative is rooted in UNLV's open and participatory culture.



    Top Tier Initiative

    • Year Five of Implementation
    • Academic Units Align Strategic Plans
    • Key Metrics Progress Reports Disseminated at the Department Level
    • UNLV Received Carnegie Classification for Community Engagement
    • Actions and Progress Reviewed and Revised

    Top Tier Initiative

    • Year Four of Implementation
    • Executive Committee formed to provide oversight
    • Key Metrics Identified
    • Steering Committees Determine Actions
    • Action Plans and Progress Reviewed and Revised
    • Subcommittees formed within Each Pathway Goal
    • Actions Implemented

    Top Tier Initiative

    • UNLV Moves Up In Carnegie Designation
    • UNLV is now classified as a “Very High Research (R1) University"

    Top Tier Initiative

    • Year Three of Implementation
    • Critical Review of the overall Top Tier Plan
    • Steering Committees Determine Actions
    • Action Plans and Progress Reviewed and Revised
    • Subcommittees formed within each pathway goal
    • Actions Implemented

    Top Tier Initiative

    • Year Two of Implementation
    • Formation of Steering Committees
    • Action Plans Developed
    • Sub-committees formed within each pathway goal
    • Actions Implemented

    Top Tier Initiative

    • Year One of Implementation
    • Formation of Committees
    • Top Tier Retreat
    • Action Plans Developed and Implemented
    • Year One Implementation Results Overview
    • Year One Archives

    Path to Tier One Formal Strategic Thinking Process Begins

    • Letter to campus from Acting President Donald Snyder announcing the hire of Academic Leadership Associates
    • Campus planning committees announced.
    • Path to Tier One Strategic Thinking Model
    • Path to Tier One White Paper
    • 2014-15 Vision

    Public Presentation and Discussion of Tier One Concept

    • Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce symposium.
    • Economic Benefit of Southern Nevada Medical School report is released by Tripp-Umbach.
    • UNLV Executive Vice President and Provost John Valery White presents to NSHE Board of Regents.
    • "Head of the Class," LVCC Business Voice
    • President Neal Smatresk publicly announces goal in his State of the University Address.
    • The Lincy Institute/Brookings Mountain West produced The Metropolitan Revolution and UNLV as a Carnegie-Tier One University by Robert Lang, professor and director.

    Initial Research and Internal Analysis of Tier One

    • UNLV compared to Western public universities with a Carnegie Research University (Very High) designation.

    National Great Recession Forces Cuts and Challenges Vision

    During this period, the university:

    • Lost 144.5 full-time faculty lines (mostly through attrition)
    • Eliminated through reorganization 10 academic departments and more than 30 degree programs
    • Reduced class sections by more than 1,000 per semester and experienced a corresponding enrollment decline of approximately 5 percent
    • Experienced a drop in external research funding from approximately $75 million per year at its peak to approximately $30 million per year, in part due to dramatic cuts in funding nationwide as well as UNLV's loss in faculty

    Despite these setbacks, UNLV preserved a solid foundation and emerged with a more formalized effort to reflect on its mission.

    UNLV adopted an addendum to the Focus 50 to 100 that identified specific measures to track our progress in three areas:

    1. Instruction
    2. Research
    3. Infrastructure

    Regents approve updates to Campus Physical Master Plan.


    UNLV Focus 50 to 100 Strategic Plan

    • President David Ashley introduces the university’s Focus 50 to 100 Strategic Plan, a plan from UNLV’s 50th anniversary for the next 50 years.

    UNLV Seeks Higher Carnegie Designation

    • President Carol Harter sets direction to achieve Carnegie classification of “Research University (High Research Activity).”

    UNLV Adds Doctoral Degrees

    • UNLV receives a Carnegie “Doctoral/Research University-Intensive” designation, thanks to its offering of a wide range of baccalaureate and master's programs and awarding at least 10 doctoral degrees per year across three or more disciplines or at least 20 degrees per year overall.

    UNLV Moves Up In Carnegie Designation

    • UNLV is now classified as a “Comprehensive Master's-granting University," offering 40 or more master’s degree annually in three or more disciplines.

    UNLV Receives Its First Carnegie Designation

    • UNLV is classified as a “Comprehensive I” institution. Schools in this category offer baccalaureate programs and, with few exceptions, offer graduate education through master’s degrees.