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UNLV president outlines plan to grow university, build stronger campus community

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Updated: 9/03/2013 4:37 pm
LAS VEGAS (KSNV MyNews3) -- This year, UNLV marked another milestone, welcoming the biggest freshman class in its history. More than 3,600 students are part of the class of 2018, joining a school that is rebounding from budget cuts that saw classes cut and faculty fired.

UNLV president Neal Smatresk explained how UNLV managed to achieve such a large class size despite the budget cuts.

“We got back to basics,” Smatresk said. “The cuts force you to understand what you value most, and we know that our core business is educating great students so that they can take their place in the Nevada work force and make our economy more prosperous. We completely revamped our enrollment management structure, we made sure that we were recruiting hard, but we also promoted the fact that you can get an incredible education at an incredible cost at UNLV. We’re one of the best prices for the quality of education you get anywhere in the country.”

Smatresk said that, with college debt being an increasing concern for young graduates, the more-reasonable price of classes at UNLV is a draw to students.

“We’re one of the two cheapest states in the country to go to a research university and get a higher education. We’re also one of the states – I think we’re in the bottom three – in terms of the accumulated debt of our graduating students,” Smartresk said. “Those, I think, are very strong statements.”

Smatresk said that the cost of UNLV compares most favorably to the high cost of private universities.

“Let’s just look at simple things: we charge about $6,600 per year for tuition and miscellaneous fees. If you go to a private [university], you can pay upwards of $50,000 – $60,000. You can get your whole four-year degree from UNLV for about the cost of a semester at a private. And I promise you that we have educators who are as good or better than the best anywhere in the world.”

Smatresk said that, even if someone is not in college and won’t have any children that will be going to college, UNLV still will matter to their future.

“UNLV should matter because the workforce that’s going to take care of you when you’re old, your healthcare, your banking, [and] the folks that handle our dominant industry on the strip are all being staffed by graduates of UNLV,” Smatresk said. “We occupy many of the top executive positions in this entire state, and particularly in Las Vegas. We have more than 60,000 active alum in the area, and they’re making a difference.”

Smatresk also emphasized how UNLV can improve the state of Nevada as a whole.

“Only about 20 percent of our population has a college degree here. We need 40 or 60 percent to be competitive.” “Investing in UNLV to produce graduates is really good for the economy. [It] builds the tax base, builds the productivity, and will ultimately make sure that Nevada is not an afterthought, but is right out front in terms of global economies.”

Smatresk said that we need to increase the number graduates to meet the nation’s workforce needs. Smatresk said that he hopes that future investment in education will help the university boost its numbers.

“Right now, we do it on vapor,” Smatresk said. “We’ve been cut to the bone, and we’ve proven that we’re incredibly efficient, and this year’s entering class proves that. What we need to do now is, with modest investment to make sure that we can keep a favorable student-to-faculty ratio – we can grow, and we think we can grow better than anyone. In fact, there’s a great number: if you take a look at the cost per student graduating, UNLV is cheaper than any other school in the state and produces more graduates and more students for fewer dollars than any school in the state. So, we’re a terrific investment.”

Despite some blowback, Smatresk said that the proposed UNLV stadium is crucial for the school because he wants to build a stronger campus community. He says that the community is already growing on campus.

“Two years ago, while we had 1600 dorm beds on campus, we only put 900 kids in those dorms. This year, we have over 1600 kids in the dorms. They’re full, and there’s a waiting list,” Smatresk said. “We desperately need dorm space, but when we get those extra kids on campus, the campus life really picks up. Campus is busy morning, noon, and night. The library, the health center is full. And if we can have all the amenities, including a great Saturday and weekend life, -- because we’ve got the Thomas and Mack going and we’ve got the football stadium going – it just really puts us on the map as a major state university and makes us yet more desirable to attract students from around the world.”

Smatresk says that the all appointments to the UNLV stadium authority will be made within the next month, and that a plan for moving forward will soon begin taking form in hopes of determining what is best for both the Las Vegas and UNLV communities.

“We are hopeful, and fairly confident, that every one of the major private casinos and operators on the strip will be represented, and then we can sit down and talk turkey: what is it that we need to build to help the Vegas economy,” said Smatresk. “The Thomas and Mack brings in $200,000 a year in export economy. That’s a big number. Imagine what 60,000 seats done in collaboration with the LVCVA could do. I think it would be a big boost, but it's also a boost for us.”

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