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University’s name change invigorates support of Latino students

Dr. DeRionne Pollard
Dr. DeRionne Pollard
Opinion
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Signage as seen at Nevada State College in Henderson on Friday, Sept. 24, 2021. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

The first legislative session of the Lombardo administration provided a much-needed boost to education in Nevada. Working with the Legislature, there was agreement on investing more than $2 billion in our K-12 system. There was also bipartisan support in favor of renaming the institution that I have the honor to lead, which I can now officially call Nevada State University. The renaming from Nevada State College to Nevada State University became official July 1.

A renaming may seem inconsequential to some, but it is incredibly meaningful to our students, graduates and to the future of our institution. Research published in Economics of Education Review shows collegiate institutions experience a 5.2 percent increase in first-time student enrollment within five years of renaming from “college” to “university.” Serving those students who have historically faced barriers to higher education is crucial to Nevada’s economic future and to the mission of Nevada State University.

Those barriers rose significantly during and after the pandemic; students nationwide were hit with the double whammy of inflation and tuition continuing to climb as colleges and universities struggled with their own increased costs. Here at home, college enrollment dropped in Nevada from 2020 to 2021. However, amidst this decline, there was a notable upturn in Nevada’s Latino and Hispanic college enrollment. Despite this promising development for Hispanic and Latino students, retention emerged as a formidable challenge, resulting in a 3.5 percent drop in graduation rate for this population.

As 28 percent of the state’s population identifies as Hispanic or Latino, it is vital that we address this challenge now or we will pay the consequences for years to come. The success of this population is a bellwether for our success in supporting our post-secondary students writ large. Failing to invest in the programs and supports that are proven to work will mean we rob our economy of future nurses, teachers, entrepreneurs and other essential jobs where we already face severe shortages. 

We must redouble our efforts around diversity, particularly in the wake of the Supreme Court’s recent decision to overturn years of precedent around affirmative action practices in college and university admissions. With this in mind, the severity of the problem must be matched by the clarity of the solutions. We know what programs work. Nevada State is an example of the successes we can have if we invest in programs to support these students even before they set foot on campus. 

Our high school-based dual credit system and transfer agreements with other educational institutions in the state are examples of how we’re supporting these students. Our dual-credit program has been a major boon for Latino youth seeking a college education, with 62 percent of students in the program being Latino in 2022, compared to 39 percent for Nevada State overall.

Through the dual-enrollment program, we’ve built partnerships with high schools that serve large Latino populations, such as Rancho, Liberty and Valley high schools in Southern Nevada, which have a nearly 30 percent Latino/Hispanic population. The cost per credit for these courses is 80 percent less than traditional college classes. We have made an active effort to meet these students where they’re at and help to guide them toward a college education while they still work to finish their high school diploma.

We’ve also worked to grow our supportive programming for first-generation college students. The TRIO Student Support Services works to provide first-generation and low-income students with financial and grant assistance, tutoring, academic advising and career development; and our Nepantla Program allows first-generation students to take classes at Nevada State at no charge during the summer before their first semester of college. We will expand these and other programming for first-generation students through our recently announced First and Fierce initiative that supports mentorship, scholarships and emergency assistance funds.

As a designated Hispanic-Serving Institution, Nevada State has shown that providing resources and support to Latino students from the beginning sets a strong foundation for their educational journey and keeps them enrolled through graduation. This is a model that can be implemented not only for Latino and Hispanic students, but even more broadly across Nevada’s higher education system among all demographics.

Changing our name to truly reflect who we are, “A University for All,” reaffirms that we will not sit back and watch Latino student enrollment decrease statewide. It’s our goal to continue Nevada State University as a leading institution in Latino enrollment. Gov. Joe Lombardo and our legislators have made a bold investment in Nevada’s future and our university will answer the call to make good on those investments.   

Dr. DeRionne Pollard is president of Nevada State University. She is the first Black female president of any Nevada System of Higher Education institution. She previously had roles at the College of Lake County and served as president of Montgomery and Las Positas colleges. She holds a bachelor’s and a master’s of arts in English from Iowa State University and a Ph.D. in educational leadership and policy studies in higher education from Loyola University Chicago. 

Correction (Aug. 3, 2023 at 3 p.m.): A previous version of this article misstated a fact from a citation from the Economics of Education Review. It should have stated first-time, not first-generation student enrollment.

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