Las Vegas Sun

May 24, 2022

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Guest column:

Higher ed is an investment

Education and the economy

We’ve heard and received several comments over the past several months about how higher education does, or doesn’t, contribute to the economy and economic development in Nevada. The Sun asked three people for their insight: Gov. Brian Sandoval, Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Dan Klaich, and writer

Patrick Gibbons. Here are their thoughts. What are yours? Send us a letter: 2360 Corporate Circle, Henderson, NV 89074; e-mail:

[email protected]; or post your comments on these pieces online.

Nevada’s economy must be rebuilt if our state is to shed its history of boom-and-bust cycles. The keys to that success lie in innovation and economic diversification. Unless you choose to ignore virtually all recognized and credible research on these subjects, a crucial part of the foundation for rebuilding Nevada must be education — better and higher performing schools, and more effective and engaged colleges and universities.

The tourism and service economy that has fed us for so long and which will remain a significant part of our economy cannot shoulder on its own the needs of a state in the Information Age. All you have to do is look around the country, or the world for that matter, to see the direct correlation between low education and high unemployment, poor health, mushrooming social services and crushing correctional budgets. Education does make a difference.

Look to Boston’s biotech core, Silicon Valley, North Carolina’s Research Triangle and the Utah Science Technology and Research initiative for examples of innovation and economic diversification through investment in education. All have leveraged economic growth off of vibrant and engaged higher education systems to transform their economies through research and development, advances in science and technology, and a better trained workforce to attract new industries. Universities and colleges bring jobs, both direct and indirect. A recent study of Nevada showed that for every dollar invested in higher education, more than $4 were returned to the state in increased economic activity.

A recent policy report produced by the National Conference of State Legislators and the Western Interstate Compact for Higher Education concluded that many states are looking to higher education policy as an “investment strategy … (to) plan for jobs that will drive the economy in the future.” While there is clearly an individual advantage to education, it is impossible to ignore the benefits that a community reaps from an educated citizenry, and this basic principle is fundamental to the link between higher education and economic development.

Over a lifetime, a college-educated individual earns about $1 million more than a person without a college degree, which translates into increased tax revenue for the state. This income gap is growing.

People with education beyond high school also enjoy improved health, are more involved in voluntary organizations, and give more to charity — all of which is good for the economy and for overall quality of life.

Unemployment rates are lower for adults with higher levels of education all across the country, thereby lowering the burden on state services for the unemployed. For the average 30-year-old college graduate, the state spends between $800 and $2,700 less on social programs than citizens with less education.

The incarceration rate of adults with some college education is about one quarter of that for those with only a high school degree. Add to this that it costs more to keep a person in prison for a year than in the university — about three times as much when compared with a two-year college.

Finally, a national study indicates that every dollar spent on equalizing college entrance rates across racial/ethnic groups would yield between $2 and $3 in public savings, with a third to a half of the benefits coming from savings on social programs, and the rest from increased tax revenues. In an increasingly ethnically diverse state like Nevada, these figures simply cannot be ignored.

The Nevada System of Higher Education is committed to linking its strategic plan for higher education to Nevada’s economic development through student success and alignment with public education and the workforce needs of the state. It is our public education system that is creating tomorrow’s engineers, scientists, entrepreneurs, artists and leaders — in Nevada and for Nevada. This plan is backed by accountability and performance measures so that all citizens can understand how their tax dollars are spent and what results are being generated. It is a plan that puts Nevada first and is aimed at building a new and more vibrant economy.

In Nevada — education matters, for all Nevadans.

Dan Klaich is the chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education, which includes seven colleges and universities and the Desert Research Institute.

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