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March 2, 2015

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Flight of Nevada’s brightest

An educated citizenry is essential for economic recovery, experts say. UNLV and UNR battling budget crisis to keep state’s best right here.

Degreed in Nevada

Nevada ranked 41st among the states for its share of adults aged 25 to 44 with bachelor’s degrees, born in the state who still live here (39%). The top 5 Texas (70%) California (66%) Minnesota (62%) Georgia (62%) North Carolina (61%) The bottom 5 Alaska (19%) Wyoming (27%) Vermont (30%) South Dakota (34%) Delaware (36%)

Off to college?

Clark County School District percentage of students requesting transcripts be sent to two- or four-year colleges or universities (some request a transcript be sent to a college or university but never attend): 2006: 73 percent 2007: 74 percent 2008: 73 percent 2009: 71 percent 2010: 69 percent Washoe County School District percentage of graduates who enrolled in two- or four-year colleges or universities: 2008: 54.5 percent 2009: 50.4 percent 2010: 46 percent Sources: Clark County School District; Washoe County School District
Jim Rogers

Jim Rogers

Neal Smatresk

Neal Smatresk

Eric Glyman is exactly the type of young person Nevada needs to reinvent itself.

The 20-year-old graduate of Green Valley High School was a valedictorian, science olympiad and member of the speech and debate and track and field teams.

Now a junior at Harvard, he’s majoring in Chinese and economics.

And he’s probably not coming back. Opportunities are much better elsewhere.

Nevada, like many states and countries, has always suffered from a flight of human capital, or “brain drain,” as it’s often called. Many of our best and brightest take a pass on UNR and UNLV, and once they matriculate at elite universities elsewhere, they wind up in regions that are financial and technological centers and offer more varied cultural and recreational lives.

This brain drain problem was mitigated during the boom, as tens of thousands of college-degreed Americans came to Nevada for opportunity. The valley was flush with architects, construction management experts, marketers, attorneys, accountants and other professionals. In fact, today there are roughly 191,000 working-age adults in the valley with bachelor’s degrees who weren’t born in Nevada, according to an analysis of census data by Alan Berube of the Brookings Institution.

Although we enjoyed a migration surge of the educated, we also had a massive influx of less educated service and construction workers, and we were left with a workforce that was less educated than most large urban areas — 21 percent of Clark County residents had bachelor’s degrees as of 2009, compared with the national average of 27 percent, according to census data compiled by the Chronicle of Higher Education. By contrast, 28 percent of residents of Maricopa County, where Phoenix sits, have degrees; in Salt Lake County, it’s 29 percent.

This matters because economic development experts agree that Nevada faces a difficult path to recovery. We have limited natural resources, a struggling construction economy that won’t recover anytime soon and over-reliance on a tourism industry that is itself dependent on free-spending outsiders in an age of parsimony.

In short, we need our tourism industry to expand and innovate, or we need new industry. Both options would seem to require college-educated workers whom we don’t currently possess in enough numbers.

This need comes amid a steep budget deficit that will almost certainly mean cuts in higher education. Gov. Brian Sandoval has proposed a decrease of at least 17 percent.

Even without budget cuts, it’s an open question whether we can keep our best here, attract educated outsiders, or take our middling high schoolers and whip them into college shape.

Nevada ranked 41st among the states for its share of adults ages 25 to 44 with bachelor’s degrees, born in the state who still live here. More than three out of five have left.

A few years ago, the state produced about 50 National Merit Scholars, and all but one of them left.

Jim Rogers, former chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education, puts it succinctly: “They go away to the best schools, and they never come back.”

In the past two years, our ability to offset those losses with newly arriving educated residents has plummeted. The valley once ranked sixth among the 52 largest metro areas in net in-migration of people with degrees, but now we’re 27th. And as the Great Recession has led to an exodus, the situation would appear to be worsening.

“The bottom line,” says Robert Lang, director of Brookings Mountain West, “is that you’re not going to attract sufficient numbers to make up for the losses.”

UNLV President Neal Smatresk and UNR President Milton Glick seem committed to attracting talented students, using their home-field advantage by keeping Nevada’s best.

“Bright, hardworking students ought to be recruited just as much as people who are 6-feet-10 inches and have soft hands,” Glick quips.

He has begun to repeat the success he had recruiting at Arizona State University, where he increased the number of enrolled National Merit Scholarship winners from three to more than 400. At UNR, the number of National Merit winners has increased from five to 38.

Both he and Smatresk have done this through spotlighting and nurturing talented high school students — UNR has “signing days” like that for athletes. Both institutions have also built programs that guarantee what Glick calls “one-on-one discovery relationships with a distinguished faculty.”

At UNLV, Smatresk touts the honors program, the Global Entrepreneurship Experience program and the Lincy Institute as offering the high-level engagement and financial help that the best students require.

Spencer Norman is a first-year student at UNLV in the entrepreneurship program. He made the dean’s list in his first semester and said he is thrilled by his decision to stay in Nevada. He was accepted at the better-ranked universities of Oregon, Iowa and Colorado, but was enticed by the entrepreneurship program and the financial aid, he says.

Smatresk says getting students is no different from getting the best faculty, or a firm getting the best lawyer. “There’s a marketplace for students. We’re competing against every great school in the country,” he says.

Or as Rogers puts it: “You have to go out and buy the best students.”

The low-hanging fruit, as it were, are Nevada’s best high school students, who can be enticed with the Guinn Millennium Scholarship and other programs. If we can retain them, they will often attract their friends and begin to raise the level of learning for the entire university. That in turn will help us attract better out-of-state students.

“A critical mass of outstanding students changes the quality of education for all our students,” Glick says.

Glick is surely talking about students such as Kathleen Phelan, a star 2008 graduate of Green Valley High School now in the honors program at UNR on a full scholarship. She’s studying international affairs, with a minor in Italian and a semester in Italy. She had to finish her Italian minor quickly because of program cuts. More are coming.

Phelan is considering law school at UNLV, but she says she wants to experience the wider world and sees a UNLV law degree as most useful only if she stays here, which looks unlikely.

She is not unique: Whether our best high schoolers leave or stay in Nevada to go college, many will go out of state to find jobs or go to graduate schools. “Being elsewhere provides an opportunity to interact with other cultures,” she says.

Jim Russell, a geographer who focuses on human capital issues, says we shouldn’t think of the phenomenon of our best students leaving as an entirely bad thing.

In fact, Russell says, we should celebrate the fact that our best high schools produce elite graduates who go on to top universities and get high-paying jobs in New York City and San Francisco.

“If you want to stop brain drain, then don’t educate them. That will certainly root them,” Russell says sarcastically. Chris Briem, a University of Pittsburgh economist, echoes Russell: “Young grads are going to go. Stopping that is tilting against windmills, and it hurts those young people,” he says.

Russell adds: “Show me a low out-migration neighborhood, and I’ll show you a poor neighborhood.”

For instance, think of the poorest Rust Belt inner city neighborhoods or down-on-their-luck rural towns, and what comes to mind? People who are trapped and never leave.

Russell points out that the Denver metro area has huge numbers of its best high school students leave. But we don’t think of Denver as having a brain-drain problem because of its tremendous churn: The loss of those smart people is more than compensated by Colorado’s ability to attract educated workers with high-skill industries and a high-altitude lifestyle.

This is where Las Vegas and Nevada are in some trouble — we will likely struggle to attract recent college graduates. As Berube notes, the ability to attract these people — whether our own or outsiders — “depends on the size and diversity of your firms, and Southern Nevada is still too limited.”

Scott Allison is a 27-year-old Green Valley High graduate who is now a computer programmer in Seattle. After graduating from the University of Texas, he wanted to come home. He was willing to do most anything but couldn’t find any opportunities for a recent college graduate, even in the hot economy of 2005. “There isn’t diversity in the job market,” he says.

So where does that leave us?

Experts point to two areas to invest resources. One is in using universities as economic development engines — investing in research that leads to the creation of new companies. That in turn will attract good students, as well as college-educated job seekers.

By now, this model, prevalent in Silicon Valley, Boston, North Carolina’s Research Triangle, greater Denver, Austin and other regions, is well-known.

Officials at UNLV and UNR have made clear their intentions to intensify efforts on this front. But the effort requires top-notch, entrepreneurial faculty. Smatresk at UNLV says he’s losing many of his best faculty to better offers elsewhere. He says he becomes aware of three faculty members a week taking offers elsewhere; he was once able to retain two, but now it’s more like one. They are frustrated with the perception that higher education isn’t valued here, he says. As if to throw salt in the wound, at a recent economic development conference at UNLV, a Utah official boasted about grabbing a top-notch UNLV faculty member.

Russell pairs this economic development model of university-related companies with a call to do better with our less elite students. He argues that efforts to keep elite high schoolers in state are fruitless. Instead, he says, we should focus on our diamonds-in-the-rough, our first-in-the-family-to-go-to-college students. Then, we should pair them up with a local company that is a partner with the university in the economic development effort. These graduates will be grateful and the most likely to stay and help us build a new economy, he says.

To pursue this diamond-in-the-rough strategy, however, Nevada will have to not only give these students a shot at college, but also better prepare them before they arrive by improving our K-12 system.

As it convenes this week, the question for Nevada’s Legislature is this: Can we undertake this effort for less money than we currently spend on our schools and university system?

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  1. Govo.2 is appealing to a dying dittohead demographic, the "no new-taxes" sound bite goes over with Ensignite Bible thumper hypocrites as well as the quarter machine long neck bar-stool sitters and mind numbed talk radio crowd.

    The inherited wealth crowd, like the Koch Brothers, fund the half cocked voodoo economic nutty policy groups indirectly from behind the scenes. A family that has supported Mussolini, the John Birch Society, segregation and has paid almost a billion dollars for pollution and safety violations and settlements is not going to back an enlightened "green job future."

  2. ...Glory glory...finally you see the problem....this is something that I have been saying for a long need something else....not another hotel and casino ...not another strip need innovation and invention...I love Las Vegas and Nevada...but it is sadly over done ..., whether its because the Steve Wynn's of Las Vegas have ravaged it need people with brains ... big corporations who will inject millions of dollars into the this is a plan......

  3. How much do we value our own survival? Maybe enough to rethink our priorities and invest in our values? Perhaps enough to realize that slashing our schools to death will take us nowhere but extinction?

  4. In 1960 while attending college I had an instructor who was born in the U.K. He led a fascinating life and shared some of his experiences with the class. He was a natural born mentor. Mr.Paul Geale alerted the class to the possible future of this country. He stated we were living in the best country in the world at that time. He also alerted us to fact that it was the Big (3) in business that made it that way. If we continued not to take care or own people we would be in danger of losing our wonderful way of life. At that time the United States only feared Russia. He stated our leaders were only interested in stopping Russian threats. He stated that we were in danger of loosing our(Middle Class)society. This is basis for our land of opportunity. In 1960 he stated we have a sleeping giant that is going undetected and it is China. The masses of world population are hidden in China. They will awaken and some will become educated to form strong leadership that will surpass any other nation in the world. It will take time but it will happen. He did not think he would live long enough to see it happen. He felt some of the class would see the world taking on a new economic shape. I believe he was right. Education is required to keep this country above water. Complacency will erode this nation just like rust. Greed feeds complacency. Teach your children how to speak and understand Chines culture not Spanish. It will be a step forward for their future and their childrens future.
    (In Memory of Paul Geale)

  5. Recently, I was speaking to a high school administrator who, when discussing how best to ready our high school for college quipped, "we are just lucky to get them to graduate."

    Nevada has an education problem, but I am heartened by what appears to be the twinkling of innovation in our schools and universities. To encourage accomplishment, you must reward accomplishment. Giving increased attention to National Merit Scholars is a good start.

  6. I'm betting Eric Glyman didn't decide to go to Harvard because it is the most affordable school.

    Our states Higher Ed system is in trouble Not because it is too expensive but because it does not have the Quality of other schools.

    People seek quality. The best schools will get first choice of the best students. Cost is secondary.

  7. Actually, Harvard has so many endowments and scholarships, it can be a less expensive alternative to many public colleges that don't have the same level of financial aid.

  8. Well, DUH!!!

  9. Education is what you make of it. Students leaving Nevada for education elsewhere all have the opportunity to come back and help make their state a better place to live (as many of my trends have). Don't blame the state for the lack of dedication of transient students borne of transient parents.

    What we do not need now or ever is outsiders like Camille Pagnotta telling us how we should do things here. Las Vegas can build as many casinos as we want; it is what we do, and I, for one, am neither ashamed nor will apologize for our number one industry. Ivory Tower snobs can always go elsewhere. Seriously; we don't need that kind of daily insult just because Nevada doesn't fit their specific idea of what is good and bad.

    I'm native born, UNLV educated, and doing things every day to make Las Vegas a better place without stripping it of its uniqueness. But that's just me.

  10. There are a couple of things that need to be pointed out. First, education opens doors, it is up to the individual to walk through that door.
    Second, there are opportunities for education here in Nevada. The higher system is affordable. The lesson here is not the "diamonds in the rough" story but "Acres of Diamonds".

    "Acres of Diamonds" --the idea is that in this country of ours every man has the opportunity to make more of himself than he does in his own
    environment, with his own skill, with his own energy, and with his own friends.

  11. Is it too much trouble to at least mention the Center for Energy Research? Or is it much easier to simply say "Nevada has no resources"? I guess when you are pushing hopelessness and demanding tax increases, a negative slant works well for you.

    As if education is the only thing. Here is an even greater cause -- Nevada citizens are FED UP with the waste, mismanagement and corruption of our government. I cannot speak about higher education because I have not done the research. But when CCSD demands $210,000 a year for a classroom of 30 students, and 80% or $168,000 of that is teacher and administrative salaries, one can only conclude that the system is broken.

    Instead of insisting that the only way to fix education is to throw more money at it, why don't you suggest that maybe government administrators should run their programs more efficiently. If they did, then the public would gladly provide financial support.

  12. Mr. Atwwod

    Sir I agree that some of these people are over paid and that that's all I ever here any more is we need more money to give a better Education when in fact the Education doesn't get better it just cost more, I am constantly being asked to give money or buy this or buy that from the students and it's all for a good cause " Education ".

    I am not against Teachers or Educators but if they are paid lets say $60,000.00 per year for argument sake, that if they work a 2080 year (40 hour a week times 52 weeks = 2080) then they have earned approx. $29.00 dollars an hour, How ever most don't work 40 hours a week all year they work nine months of the year so you would also have to conclude that being prorated would be approx.$38.50 an hour not counting the other benefits.

    Now I don't know how much Teachers make can anyone post that.

  13. correction 2080 hour year

  14. @ casinokid. It is not the duty of the citizens of Nevada to micromanage the finances of CCSD. You ask, how much do teachers make? Take a look at the CCSD budget:

    [Warning: This is a 13Mb pdf file so it takes a minute or two to download]

    On page 14 under the General Fund Expenditures there is a pie chart. It shows that teacher salaries take up 58.6% of the General Fund. Using simple mathematics --

    $2.1 Billion / 300,000 students = $7,000 per student.

    Therefore, a classroom of 30 students requires $210,000 per year to operate. 58% or $126,000 is dedicated to the teacher's salary.

    Does this answer your question?

  15. Not to fret, these "poindexters" like young Eric are being replaced by massive amounts of Somali cab drivers and Chinese restaraunteers. To bad Erics leaving, he could have been hired to hang out at a casino and greet Chinese high-rollers in their own language.

  16. @ samjung. Agreed!

    If America wants to educate like the Chinese, then CCSD needs to adopt strict disciplinary guidelines similar to what you would find in Chinese schools. We need to create a less hostile learning environment by weeding out the behavior problems. Then you would see a major improvement in all indicators including graduation rates and transition to colleges.

    I agree with the article that we need to take care of the best and brightest. But beyond that, we need to take care of the 90% who want to learn by removing the 10% who are troublemakers. So much time, money and effort goes into accomodating the miscreants that there is nothing left for the rest of the students.

    Create strict disciplinary guidelines and ship any student who does not comply off to a continuation high school where they can drop out by themselves without dragging half a dozen other discouraged students and exasperated teachers with them.

    The real "brain drain" is taking place in the secondary school classrooms where teachers spend far too much time on discipline and too little time on education.

  17. @ samjung.

    I don't know what the percentages are today but from what I have seen in the past it is usually only a couple bad apples who dumb down the learning experience for an entire class.

    The problem is that each and every student is a $7,000 cash cow to an administrator who does not care about the quality of education, only the tax money.

    As you stated previously, this egalitarian approach to education is the exact OPPOSITE of what educators should be doing if they want to retain the "best and the brightest."

    Has anyone even bothered to ask the top students what it would take for them to remain in Las Vegas? I bet a vast majority would say a decent learning environment.

  18. This entire article is based on a very reasonable but simple logical fallacy. I address the fallacy here:

  19. The average salary for a CCSD teacher is about $44,000 per year. What they take home is less taxes and insurances.

    Also, the average teacher spends about $2,000 per year with school related expenses.

    Administrators typically make at least twice the salary per year.

    Hope this helps.

  20. If he was majoring in Chinese who needs him back. We need people who are majoring in Americanism.

  21. The fact remains that if a University Student leaves their home state for an education, there is a much lower chance that student will return. The opportunities for that student is usually close to their graduating University. Their higher salaries are refelected in Higher Income Tax receipts for their new communities. Nevada leaders must learn that education comes prior to investments by businesses needing High Knowlege workers. Casinos require the same level of competence workers as Theme Parks. Lots of Cleaning and Food Service but little in High Tech skills and high wages.

  22. Rob White Trash said "@CliffHarrison - What academic institutions offer studies in "Americanism"? Is this the same as the study of xenophobia?"

    And the Animal Farm Cadet's handle is Rob White Trash.

  23. If you click onto Rob White Trash's link and read the 133 previous post you'll see everyone of them are full of hate and anger.

    Typical Animal Farm cadet bully. Xenophobia?

    Another one from the crowd that believes in special privileges for the minorities yet screams "Equal Rights" and shouts "We are all equal!"

  24. Mr. Atwood
    Thanks for the link.