Given the fragile and anemic state of our economy, and the view held by many in Nevada that higher education is a luxury, we are right to be concerned about our future. That leaves us with the option of joining the chorus of those asking candidates for their plans...or boldly stepping forward and putting forth our plan for education's future and the future of Nevada. We have no choice but to choose the latter.
There is much planning that we need to do. We need to admit the disgrace of our graduation rates in Nevada at every level, and commit to reversing them now. We must quit finding fault and start seeking solutions that must equate to no less than graduating more students with a postsecondary degree. This is not just a Nevada problem, but a part of a larger national conversation concerning our country's future. President Obama is leading the way in making education a priority by establishing aggressive national goals for graduating more students. The Lumina Foundation has broadly defined a goal to increase the proportion of Americans with high-quality degrees and credentials to 60 percent by the year 2025. The Complete College America initiative has defined a goal for 2020 that six out of 10 young adults in our country will have a college degree or credential of value. In whole these ambitious initiatives are creating momentum that cannot be ignored. These are significant goals that the Nevada System of Higher Education will embrace as we redefine our future.
We must build incentives into the manner in which we fund higher education to encourage efficiency and success. Requesting funding based on how many students we pull in through our doors with no consideration to what their educational needs are, or even how successful they are once enrolled, is no longer tolerable.
We must face the changing demographics of our state and develop education plans that meet the needs of our people in the second decade of this century and beyond. We are a state that is rich in its diversity. However, we also have huge numbers of first generation college students and a burgeoning population of low income families. Coupled with minimal levels of financial aid we are at risk of losing entire generations of students. To stand by and let this happen is not only a moral disgrace, but also an economic disaster. We will never diversify the economy of this state until we raise the level of education of our citizens, increase the preparedness of our workforce, and ignite the engine of innovation through research. Similarly, as the level of education slips, we know the cost to all of us increases in terms of demand on social services, incarceration rates, and lower health outcomes.
We need to rethink and retool every structure in higher education. In every case our questions must be focused on efficiency, collaboration and coordination with the goals of the State of Nevada. Because we have done something a certain way in the past is no reason for doing it in the future. Our goal must be to maximize resources in the classroom and laboratory.
The national trend in funding for higher education has been a shift to a model less dependent on state resources and more dependent on tuition, fees and other outside sources of revenue. Some call this a more self-sustaining model, others, an entrepreneurial model. Regardless of the name, the Nevada System of Higher Education needs to be planning today for a more independent financial model. However, if we are to be successful in becoming more self-sustaining, it must be coupled with more flexibility and policies at the state level that allow universities and colleges to retain revenues they attract for programs on their respective campuses.
For too long higher education has been seen apart from the state, apart from the "real world." We need to ensure that there are no boundaries between our institutions and the state and the communities they serve. When problems or issues arise the state should turn to its institutions of higher education, and those institutions must be open, receptive, and responsive.
No one can legitimately deny we are at a crossroads in Nevada. In the coming months we will choose a direction for this state. In higher education, we cannot sit by and allow our future to overtake us as others develop their plans. The campus presidents and I will take the steps necessary to define clear goals for increasing the number of students we graduate in Nevada. We will identify changes to our funding and budgeting methodology that incentivize success, efficiency and entrepreneurial behavior. We will bring forward a bold, comprehensive and innovative plan for higher education and the state of Nevada - a plan that will help us build a new Nevada. I ask all of you to join me in the coming months in putting together this plan, and then more importantly, in the next legislature to ensure that we enact the policies and provide the resources to make it a reality.