At my high school graduation, one of the speakers, a successful business owner in the community, gave a speech about how my graduating class should come back to Nevada after we finished college. The other students and I were confused. We wondered why, at our high school graduation, this guy was telling us what to do after college. We were all eager to leave Nevada, so the idea of coming back after just four years seemed awfully counterintuitive.
I recently came across an article published by my hometown newspaper, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, about Nevada universities’ efforts to attract high-achieving students. The story details honors programs at universities and the amount of students with significant accolades who chose to attend. And when I say “universities,” I mean two universities: the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and the University of Nevada, Reno.
High school students in Nevada have only two options when it comes to public university education outside of community college. Clark County, the school district serving Las Vegas, is the fifth largest in the nation.
One quote in the story particularly resonated with me:
“We want to find these students and get them in Nevada and keep them in Nevada,” [Tamara Valentine, director of UNR’s honors program,] said. “We are in desperate need of this brain power to remain in Nevada.”
I attended a private college preparatory high school in Las Vegas, a school that encouraged students to seek a college education from outside Nevada. Many other schools in Nevada do the same, under the commonly held belief that UNLV and UNR do not have very much to offer high-achieving students. In terms of scholarships and certain specialized programs, they are right. However, this mindset has caused many smart students with the potential to become smarter professionals to slip through Nevada’s fingers and disperse throughout the United States.
The state has taken steps to encourage students to remain in-state. The Nevada Millennium Scholarship offers qualifying high school graduates from Nevada free or reduced tuition to continue their education at in-state colleges. All qualified candidates’ names are automatically submitted to the state treasury office.
For many, however, the offerings of out-of-states schools outweigh financial assistance. Unable to recruit enough high-achieving high schoolers to compete with top universities nationally, UNR and UNLV struggle to boost their own out-of-state attendance (in-state students comprise 78% and 81% of the student bodies, respectively) and general prestige. These universities are by no means inadequate, and yet they seem to work harder than say, California public universities, to recruit in-state students.
Nevada is trapped in a vicious cycle: high achievers leave the state for college, never to return. A shortage of qualified professionals leads to a lack of progress for the city and less than desirable standards in fields like healthcare and education. Nothing improves. Students keep leaving.
Personally, I didn’t apply to either school, but I did receive an unsolicited letter of acceptance and scholarship offer from UNR. I do remember classmates lamenting the fact that we were ineligible for California in-state tuition rates. I remember only two people from my graduating class choosing to stay home and attend UNLV, though several more returned as transfer students. I remember that speaker at our graduation asking us to come home after educating ourselves, not to trap us in the desert, but to give back to our communities and improve our state for future Nevadans.
I remember people referring to UNLV as the “University of Never Leaving Vegas,” but I don’t remember why I thought that was such a bad thing.