In front of a live audience, The Nevada Independent sat with Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor, Melody Rose and provided insight from the pandemic and the budget at Myron’s, located inside The Smith Center.
The last IndyTalks of the year brought The Nevada Indepdendent’s CEO, Jon Ralston and higher education reporter, Jacob Solis to moderate the hour-long discussion.
Rose became chancellor during the front half of the pandemic, June of 2020 and serves 107,000 students. She said that her and her husband were ready for adventure and change as she served as a leader for over two decades in Oregon’s higher education system.
“The challenge [in Nevda’s higher education] if I could boil it down is to create a college-going culture,” said Rose. “So we can talk about budget woes, we can talk about changes in the business model, we can talk about all of those things but truly the number one thing that attracted me to this opportunity is the fact that we have a very low capture rate of high school seniors.”
She also points out that Nevada is consistently ranked one of the lowest in the percentage of high school graduates that will go into higher education. That’s an important issue to solve for Rose.
With her experience in Oregon and a national consultant, she believes that her fresh perspective can offer a solution to the problem.
Solis pointed out that Nevada’s economy revolves around the gaming sector, resulting in the job market relying on positions that are not required to have a college degree. Rose combats the issue with her time in Oregon.
“You have to work in partnership and you have to be willing as chancellor to go into classrooms of second graders and fifth graders and begin to talk to them about what it means to go to college,” said Rose. “Whether you’re part of the wolf pack or you’re a rebel, when you’re in second grade we’re going to be thinking about you and we’re going to be thinking about what your needs will be 10 years from now at our institutions.”
Ralston stepped in to comment on the bright shining optimism Rose has on Nevada, but he also pushed back that Nevada is not Oregon.
The chancellor’s response was that she might me optimistic, but she is also relentless.
She relentlessly emphasised how the average college degree will earn degree holders a million dollars more across their earning lifetime than if they had just finished or stopped out after high school. There are also social benefits that impact the community.
Rose pointed out that communities that are well educated bring in everything from lower crime rates to lower dependency on social services. There is also more community engagement, social indicators of health that spike when there is more education.
“Frankly, we are the key to economic diversification,” Rose said. “So when I hear from my friends at Go Ed and Owen and all of the other agencies working on diversification of the southern Nevada economy you know we’re your solution. Because as you look to bring new companies into our communities what are the questions they ask leaders? They say where are my kids going to go to school? Where are they going to learn can I experience social events? Can I experience the arts in my communities? And obviously higher education provides all of that and more.”
Rose points out that there is a decline in attendance of higher education and is expected to accelerate by 2026.
“The folks who were born during the Great Recession would be expected to show up on our campuses. The birth rate went down in 2008, the whole nation expected it would pop back up and it never did,” Rose said. “And in fact with this most recent economic downturn the decline in the birth rate accelerated, so that’s the aggregate.”
There is a reason Rose didn’t apply to jobs in the midwest and the upper northeast, this is because of the birth decline.
“This birth decline is accelerating the most. And not only are their birth rates accelerating at a higher rate they are also all moving from there, to here,” Rose said. “So I’m not a dummy, I realize this is a growth state and it’s a growth state both because of in-migration and because our particular demographics have higher than average birth rates. There’s a bet to be made on the state of Nevada that our enrollment will be far more stable than most states in the nation.
The topic of COVID-19 is later brought up to the discussion and Rose talks about the number of employees that are unvaccinated.
“Every week those numbers are moving in the right direction, we’re already over 88 percent fully vaccinated, so we’re not capturing the people who have had the first shot of their two-shot course,” Rose pointed out. “We’re not even capturing them and so I can’t give you a number because this is you know this is a novel environment and it would be foolish of me to tell you what number we’re going to land on.”
Rose pointed out the effort UNLV has made to keep the R1 status.
“It’s a challenging thing to maintain and so you know I’m so grateful to president Whitfield who brings incredible experience with R1 institutions and research chops, I mean gosh the guy’s got a publication list a mile long and continues to publish which is very impressive,” Rose said. “So he’s going to be keenly focused on the things that R1 is judged on which has to do with laboratory space, your faculty and their achievements, and their appointments and publications and those are the things where we need to continue our investment.”
“You know Jacob [Solis] is poking me about our chaps in the legislature, but I will say we got our money back on the med school for UNLV and we also got the money for the engineering school at UNLV, it’s a big deal and those are down payments on the maintenance of R1 status and hopefully rising up the ranks.”