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Investment in higher education workforce vital to Nevada's future

Anne Milkovich
Anne Milkovich
Opinion
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Public higher education is an important engine for Nevada’s economic growth. Nevada is ripe for attracting large technology firms, enabling us to diversify our economic basis beyond gaming and hospitality. In order to do so, we need to build the ecosystem to attract and retain high-tech firms. 

What do high-tech firms need in their ecosystem? Technology firms need an educated workforce to recruit and retain employees. In addition to amenities such as dining and entertainment, technology employees want to live in an educated society with good schools for their children. An educated workforce is essential for innovation, productivity and competitiveness in the global economy, and it cannot exist without higher education.

Nevada economic diversification and growth is reliant on high-quality higher education to develop new solutions for earth sciences such as wildfire management, earthquake monitoring and solar development; computer sciences such as artificial intelligence and virtual reality; a high-quality health care system; a thriving high-tech ecosystem; and much more. Nevada needs to attract and retain high-quality faculty to teach science and technology and the myriad specialized information systems that run modern health care, manufacturing, mining and entertainment industries, to name a few.

According to Education Pays 2013, investment in public higher education leads to increased economic growth, job creation and tax revenues. In addition, research conducted at public universities often leads to significant technological advancements and discoveries, which can drive economic growth and improve our quality of life.

In addition to the economic and societal benefits, public higher education is a vital tool for individual success. For many low-income students, access to public universities and colleges is their best chance of achieving upward social and economic mobility. With access to high-quality education, students are equipped with the skills, knowledge and networks necessary to secure well-paying jobs, start businesses and contribute to the economy. Moreover, investing in public higher education has the potential to close the achievement gap and reduce inequality.

Public higher education is a wise investment for our state government. A well-educated population is less likely to rely on government assistance programs and is more likely to invest more, spend more and pay higher taxes. Additionally, public universities and colleges stimulate economic growth through research, grants and public-private partnerships.

The state of public higher education in Nevada is concerning, but there are hopeful signs. Historic lack of funding has resulted in reduced academic programs and increased tuition fees. The Legislature appears poised to invest in public higher education, as demonstrated by recent bills approved in support of salary increases for faculty and administrative staff: Assembly Bill 268 and Senate Bill 440. One-time funding for new initiatives in support of higher education are also in the governor’s budget. 

If the state does not support and invest in higher education in general, we cannot achieve the vision of diversification and a thriving economy. We must recognize the importance of our public universities and colleges and the significant benefits they provide to the state economy and citizenry. 

The future of Nevada depends on it.

Anne Milkovich represents the Society for Information Management, Las Vegas. Others who contributed to this opinion include Snehal Bhakta, Karen Ahern, James Rupe, Joshua Leavitt and Kevin Milliken.

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