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OPINION: Higher education and Nevada’s economy



I was asked to submit a guest editorial for the Las Vegas Sun discussing higher education’s impact on the economy and economic diversification. That editorial (also included below) was published today as part of a feature that also included a guest editorial from Gov. Brian Sandoval as well as an argument suggesting there is little return on an investment in higher education.

I encourage you to join the discussion at the Las Vegas Sun web site.


Nevada’s economy must be rebuilt if our state is to shed its history of boom and bust cycles. The keys to that success lie in innovation and economic diversification. Unless you choose to ignore virtually all recognized and credible research on these subjects, a critical part of the foundation for rebuilding Nevada must be education – better and higher performing schools, and more effective and engaged colleges and universities.

The tourism and service economy that has fed us for so long and which will remain a significant part of our economy cannot shoulder the needs of a state in the information age on its own. All you have to do is look around the country, or the world for that matter, to see the direct correlation between low education and high unemployment, poor health, mushrooming social services and crushing correctional budgets. Education does make a difference.

Look to Boston’s biotech core, Silicon Valley, North Carolina’s Research Triangle and Utah’s USTAR program for examples of innovation and economic diversification through investment in education. All have leveraged economic growth off of vibrant and engaged higher education systems to literally transform their economies through research and development, advances in science and technology, and a better trained workforce to attract new industries. Universities and colleges bring jobs, both direct and indirect. A recent study of Nevada showed that for every dollar invested in higher education more than four dollars were returned to the state in increased economic activity.

A recent policy report produced by the National Conference of State Legislators and the Western Interstate Compact for Higher Education concluded that many states are looking to higher education policy as an “investment strategy… plan for jobs that will drive the economy in the future.” While there is clearly an individual advantage to education, it is impossible to ignore the benefits that a community reaps from an educated citizenry, and this basic principle is fundamental to the linkage between higher education and economic development.

Over a lifetime, a college-educated individual earns about $1 million more than a person without a college degree, which translates into increased tax revenue for the state. This income gap is growing.

People with education beyond high school also enjoy improved health, are more involved in voluntary organizations, and give more to charity – all of which is good for the economy and for overall quality of life.

Unemployment rates are lower for adults with higher levels of education all across the country, thereby lowering the burden on state services for the unemployed. For the average 30-year old college graduate, the state spends between $800 and $2,700 less on social programs than citizens with less education.

The incarceration rate of adults with some college education is about one quarter of that for those with only a high school degree. Add to this that it costs more to keep a person in prison for a year than in the university – about three times as much when compared to a two-year college

Finally, a national study indicates that every dollar spent on equalizing college entrance rates across racial/ethnic groups would yield between two and three dollars in public savings, with a third to a half of the benefits coming from savings on social programs and the rest from increased tax revenues. In an increasingly ethnically diverse state like Nevada, these figures simply cannot be ignored.

The Nevada System of Higher Education is committed to linking its strategic plan for higher education to Nevada’s economic development through student success and alignment with public education and the workforce needs of the state. It is our public education system that is creating tomorrow’s engineers, scientists, entrepreneurs, artists, and leaders – in Nevada and for Nevada. This plan is backed by accountability and performance measures so that all citizens can understand how their tax dollars are spent and what results are being generated. It is a plan that puts Nevada first and is aimed at building a new and more vibrant economy.

In Nevada – education matters, for all Nevadans.


Dan Klaich


Nevada System of Higher Education

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