Education changes lives.
I cannot say it more clearly. Education has the power to rewrite one's future and to build a foundation for the success of future generations.
I am where I am today because my family valued education. My father pulled himself out of the copper mines of northeast Nevada, became a veterinarian, and sent my brother, sister and me to college. He did it through sheer force of will, honesty, a belief in hard work and a burning desire to make a better life for himself and his family. Like many Nevadans, my mother and father were the first in their families to go to college. My father took advantage of an affordable and accessible public education that forever changed his life and the lives of his children. Through that education, he rewrote the history and the future of our family, and he passed along to me the same values that are centered around making what we have been given better for ourselves, for those around us, and most importantly, for those who follow us.
As a native Nevadan, my passion for building this state comes naturally. I am passionate about education because my own personal experience shows that education provides an incredible return on a community's investment. Education is the best short-term and long-term fix to building a healthy, thriving and economically successful community. Yet, I understand that we are a transient, young state with an economy that has been built for too long on who will come and leave their money for us when they leave. Unlike me, most of our residents are from somewhere else, and in many cases that somewhere else is where they raised their families, built schools, worked for a living, earned that retirement pension, and probably where many still call home. While that diversity of background and experience can build a richer state, it can also lead to a lack of commitment to make Nevada home and to do the things necessary to keep our home in good shape. And make no mistake, our home is crumbling around us.
That commitment must change now and it must change with each of us. For too long, the economy in Nevada has been based on the simple perception, some might say reality, that education, particularly higher education, is not that important. We had an abundance of jobs that allowed our citizens to enjoy higher than average wages and to find a path to the middle class. That economy has changed around us. It is time to admit that we are much more than a service based society and do something about it. The vast majority of jobs created in the United States in the last 15 years require post-secondary education. In Nevada, we know that this national statistic is true, as the jobs we will need in health care, teaching, green power, and information technology (http://www.bls.gov/news.release/ooh.t01.htm) require training beyond high school. In the meantime, our average wages have slipped against the national average. These are not my opinions but facts, and the implications are critical for the future of this state.
We know beyond dispute that with more education, personal income rises. A more educated population has a greater life expectancy, fewer health problems, is more active in civic affairs, saves more, and has a higher employment level.
Sadly, the reverse is also true. A less educated population will have a higher crime rate, more demands on social services and more difficulty in adapting to Nevada's rapidly changing workforce demands.
Again, these are not opinions - simply facts.
In addition, we know Nevada's demographics and culture are changing. We are on the cusp of becoming a "minority majority" state with predictions that approximately 50 percent of our state's population will be from a minority group by 2026. In many cases, the new minorities in our state are the generation that will be asked to repeat my father's story as the first in their family to attend college.
This is the arena in which we must compete. Rather than focus on misguided beliefs that immigrant families do not value education, we must continue our efforts to make education more accessible and affordable to all. I have found that it is not an issue of values, but one of finances. Similarly this is not "their" problem but our challenge. I will have more to say on diversity and the alarming change in the face of our state in a future memorandum.
However, my goal with these open letters to the state is not to simply provide a forum for me to complain. I want to offer solutions and enlist your help. I am asking for your support in two areas:
1) Invest in Nevada's future and invest in education.
I don't like taxes. I also don't like public agencies spending my money with no improvement to my family's and community's quality of life. If you do not want to pay high taxes, then an excellent college and university system is your only option. Prisons, welfare, Medicaid, social services, and police services are expensive - and they are growth industries! To continue as a state investing primarily in these areas guarantees your taxes will get higher and higher. Education is cheap by comparison and it gives both short-term and long-term benefits back to the taxpayers. College graduates contribute to the tax base and build a better, richer and more diversified state.
You do not want to be told that your sons and daughters cannot go to college because there is no money to support your public institutions or that classes are full, simply because Nevadans don't have the will to make that initial investment necessary to improve Nevada's future, particularly over the next 10 years. Such an investment is guaranteed to bring businesses to the state that will offer high wages and allow your children and grandchildren to contribute back to the state. That is the tax base you want for Nevada if you want to avoid high taxes.
2) Demand to know how your tax dollars are spent. You are entitled to a fair and understandable return on your investment. As chancellor, I have a responsibility to let you know exactly what you are getting for your tax dollars invested in our colleges and universities. And I have a responsibility to figure out how to spend these dollars efficiently and effectively so that educated graduates make Nevadans' lives better. If ever there was a time to look inward at how we do business in higher education, this time of economic crisis is it, and I pledge to do that.
In this time of recession, we are all worried about whether we will have the necessary resources to survive, let alone thrive. We must make tough choices, quit living just for today, and plan for tomorrow.
We need your help to do this. Get involved in making your community a better place to live. Understand what people asking to represent you in government stand for, and if they cannot give you a plan for a better Nevada, send them packing.
Nevada's plan for tomorrow must be built on your investment in education for our future so that my story will be the story for all our families.