The Hechinger Report is a national nonprofit newsroom that reports on one topic: education. Sign up for our weekly newsletters to get stories like this delivered directly to your inbox.

Get important education news and analysis delivered straight to your inbox

Choose from our newsletters

Photo courtesy Mark Holloway/flickr

To Nevada’s unhappy distinction as the state with the nation’s highest unemployment and foreclosure rates, add this: The proportion of its population with college degrees—already one of the lowest in the country—is falling the fastest.

At a time when it’s a national priority to increase the number of degree-holders, Nevada’s high jobless rate has sent its best-educated residents off to find work in other states, while huge tuition and fee increases have caused university enrollment to plummet. And the high concentration of workers in industries such as construction, who don’t have degrees but also can’t find jobs elsewhere, has pulled the average lower.

“Nationwide, the recovery in the job market has favored those with more education over those with less,” said Stephen Brown, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. So while people with college degrees are leaving, “The less educated haven’t been able to move to find work.”

Nevada has also been slow to produce new graduates. State budget cuts have propelled a 160 percent tuition increase over 10 years at public campuses such as UNLV, even as hundreds of courses have been dropped, programs eliminated, and salaries cut for faculty and staff. In the academic year that just ended, there were 10,000 fewer students enrolled in Nevada’s public universities than in the year before, an 8.2 percent drop.

Having become the best case study for why going to college is important, Nevada is trying to reverse this slide by reinventing the way it funds higher education.

“This depression has very cruelly brought the message home to us: We need to change our basic economy, and in order to diversify and develop our economy, we require a more skilled workforce and more educated citizenry,” said Dan Klaich, chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education. “That’s just the beginning and the end of it—and if we don’t do that, this economy will continue to stagnate.”

Nevada officials plan to fund public higher education based not on enrollment, as has been the case historically, but on such things as how many students actually graduate.

“Like everybody else in the country,” Klaich said, “we’ve realized that access without reasonable pathways to successful completion is a false promise.”

This story also appeared on MSNBC on June 27, 2012.

The Hechinger Report provides in-depth, fact-based, unbiased reporting on education that is free to all readers. But that doesn't mean it's free to produce. Our work keeps educators and the public informed about pressing issues at schools and on campuses throughout the country. We tell the whole story, even when the details are inconvenient. Help us keep doing that.

Join us today.

Jon Marcus writes and edits stories about, and helps plan coverage of, higher education. A former magazine editor, he has written for The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Wired, Medium.com...

Letters to the Editor

1 Letter

At The Hechinger Report, we publish thoughtful letters from readers that contribute to the ongoing discussion about the education topics we cover. Please read our guidelines for more information.

By submitting your name, you grant us permission to publish it with your letter. We will never publish your email. You must fill out all fields to submit a letter.

Submit a letter

Your email address will not be published.