President Whitfield discusses “joy of learning” in State of the University Address

UNLV President Keith Whitfield. The 11th permanent president of UNLV. July 23, 2020 (Josh Hawkins/UNLV Photo Services)

UNLV President Keith Whitfield delivered the State of the University address to the community where he discussed university milestones along with challenges the institution is facing. 

The majority of Whitfield’s address focused on “the joy of learning.” 

“It’s that joy that we sometimes forget in the noisy world of all we do,” said Whitfield. “That joy needs to be instilled in our students, shared among our faculty and staff, and  demonstrated to the community and to future generations of Rebels.” This phrase served as the main theme of Whitfield’s third annual State of the University on Feb. 2.

Whitfield opened the hourlong address by first thanking the faculty senate and campus leaders for all of their contributions to UNLV’s success as an institution. After completing his opening remarks, Whitfield touted how UNLV has recently joined 2000 other colleges in becoming a smoke-free and tobacco-free campus. 

Enrollment Dips and Bolstering Recruitment

 Undergraduate enrollment dips continue to occur nationwide, as much as 10% nationally, according to data from the National Student Clearinghouse. UNLV has largely emerged unscathed from this decline and recorded less than a 2% decrease in enrollment. Despite this decrease, Whitfield still noted that UNLV welcomed one of its largest-ever freshman classes this past year. 

“These challenges are not new to our industry,” said Whitfield. “Funding has been cut nationwide and the value of our industry has been questioned too. Higher education has been too slow to respond.”

Whitfield predicted during this speech that many universities may have to close by 2030 and that UNLV is in a more fortunate position, but still wants to meet ambitious enrollment goals. 

Discussing his vision for the university, Whitfield wants to grow enrollment from 30,000 today to as many as 40,000 students by 2030. To make this possible, he said that UNLV will bolster its recruitment both nationally and internationally. Whitfield added that he has created 13 new recruiters in recent years to expand outside of the traditional hotbed states like Hawaii and California and instead to states like Colorado, Florida, Illinois, and Arizona. The university will also continue to focus on boosting its global recruitment through partnerships with international recruitment agencies. 

Whitfield outlined that part of his increased enrollment vision is to also look within Nevada’s borders to make it an even stronger and more educated state. According to the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance, only one-third of southern Nevada residents have some type of college degree.

This goal to make Nevadans more educated extends to the state’s youngest students in K-12 education while also re-engaging adult learners. To accomplish this, UNLV recently launched the Young Rebels program, which aligns 30 early outreach activities under one umbrella. 

“We need to help students in our own backyard see themselves as college students. I want them to dream of becoming a UNLV Rebel one day,” he said. 

New Initiatives and Accomplishments

Whitfield debuted a variety of new initiatives that UNLV is welcoming in the coming months. This August, the university will host its first-ever Rebel Ready week which will focus on assisting students’ transition to university life. The six days of programming will occur the week before school starts. During the program, students will stay in housing on UNLV’s campus, eat at the dining halls, and build lifelong friendships. The program will also be of no cost to students. “This event will lay the foundation for an engaging and successful student experience,” Whitfield said. 

Whitfield added that he knows this program will increase UNLV’s first-year retention rate.

During the later portion of the address, Whitfield spoke about the campus master plan, recent enhancements to the campus layout, and new ways that students can learn. Touting the recently built Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine, Whitfield states that the campus will give future healthcare professionals the ability to excel in the workforce. 

Another way that UNLV will enhance its learning environment is by incorporating aspects of the metaverse into the student experience. Whitfield announced that campus leaders traveled to Arizona State University to investigate how they have been using the program, Dreamscape, a virtual reality learning platform. He stated that with this addition, students in the near future will be able to learn remotely anywhere. 

Last July, the Honors College held its yearly field trip across the state of Nevada. Whitfield stated that the primary goal of the field trip was to get students out of Clark County, to “experience a different way of life.” During the address, a short video recap of their experience was shared over the live stream and with the in-person audience. 

Community Partnerships and Opportunities

“Community partnerships are embedded within UNLV’s Top Tier 2.0 Strategic Plan,” said Whitfield. “It remains an emphasis for me and our institution.”

Noting the importance of establishing workforce opportunities for students, Whitfield announced that the institution is actively forming partnerships with regional and national employers to invite more opportunities for graduates.

As a part of this goal, Whitfield expressed gratitude to the Governor’s Office of Economic Development for investing $4 million in a statewide talent retention program. “It’s designed to retain top students at R1 (very high research activity) institutions in the state,” said Whitfield. “The focus is for science and engineering students to offer support to entrepreneurial tech companies and other startups in the state during and immediately following graduation.”

Other community-based efforts include the recent partnership with the Clark County School District and the medical school to provide patient care to underserved students at Bailey Elementary School. This partnership was made possible thanks to an unnamed donor. “Our medical school serves as the main source of healthcare for many of those students,” Whitfield added. “Our kids learn better when they are healthy.”

Identifying the importance of physical health, Whitfield discussed the need for improved mental health services. Whitfield took this opportunity to announce the recent opening of the Downtown Counseling Clinic opened by UNLV Practice. 

82nd Legislative Session 

This Monday, the 82nd legislative session commences in Carson City. “UNLV will be working with NSHE to support Governor Lombardo’s budget requests for higher education,” said Whitfield. “This support includes full restoration of the pandemic-driven budget cuts which amounted to about $18 million for UNLV alone.”

Outside of asking for a full budget restoration, the university will also be requesting that the higher education price index be tied directly to the weighted student credit hour rate. This is to ensure that funding for NSHE institutions keeps pace with increased costs to provide services. Whitfield stated that UNLV will continue its advocacy for capital-based projects like a new fine arts building, interdisciplinary science and technology building, along with other projects outlined in the campus master plan. 

Other efforts that UNLV supports in Carson City are Lombardo’s request to increase the number of graduate teaching assistants by $20 million and to invest $9 million to expand student capacity and faculty at the medical school. “Looking at [Lombardo’s] budget I think we are off to a really good start.”

Whitfield concluded his address by expressing his excitement at sharing all that was happening at UNLV with the community.


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