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Robert Lang: Nevada's Universities Trail Even Mississippi Colleges


The divide over north and south is far from over.

The north-south divide remains strong in Nevada.

That has become evident after comments by Steve Maples, director of undergraduate admissions at the University of Nevada, Reno, on this program.

Earlier this week, Maples repeated the claim that UNR is a “Tier One” university and that its lofty academic status is attracting more out-of-state students.

Here’s the catch: Robert Lang, of UNLV’s Brookings Mountain West, says UNR is not a Tier One school.

"They haven't moved in decades," Lang said, "So, it's not like they've just recently been put in this status that's sort of the disingenuous part of it."

He said University of Nevada Reno is still in the bottom third of rankings by U.S. News and World Report

"UNR is basically 187 out of 268 schools and those schools includes the University of Phoenix," Lang said.

Support comes from

He said UNR is trying to portray itself as "Berkeley on the Truckee" and it's not. He points out that UNR is ranked lower than Mississippi State and Ole Miss, two universities in a state with about the same population as Nevada.

"Mississippi might be the Nevada of the east when it comes to its institutions," Lang said.

One of the biggest reasons those institutions out rank both UNLV and UNR is because of research dollars. Mississippi has $400 million in research dollars while Nevada has $125 million, according to Lang.

Lang said it matters to the average person "because it's an instrument of economic development."

He pointed to the Arizona State University as a place both UNLV and UNR could model. ASU does not claim to be an 'elite' school, but rather an 'access' school, meaning it is a place for a lot of people to get a good education. 

But because it brings in millions in research dollars in the form of grants from the National Institute of Health, National Science Foundation and others, it is playing a vital role in the diversification of the Arizona economy, Lang said.

"The more important issue is that we establish UNLV as an instrument of economic development," he said. 

He said bringing in more research dollars and improving the quality of education at both Nevada institutions is key to the overall goal of economic diversification.

"It's very critical," Lang said. "And its important that both regions have institutions that stand up as relative peers to those in the rest of the West and currently they don't."

Lang said the problem is not because the schools are underfunded. According to him, Nevada ranks 17th out of 50 when it comes to spending on higher education.

"So, its not that the state doesn't have the resources," he said. "It hasn't had this as a priority." 

But the divide between north and south arises again when talking about recruitment of out-of-state students.

While UNR’s use of Western Undergraduate Exchange, a program that allows students in California and other western states to access schools in Nevada at a deeply discounted rate and vice-versa for Nevada students, is being praised, similar efforts by UNLV years ago were criticized by state lawmakers as a waste of taxpayer dollars.

"I guess that at this point the state feels flush," Lang speculated. "Maybe it felt a little lean going into the recession maybe it has the resources to do this now."

The state is paying for instruction for those out-of-state in hopes they'll stay in the state, which is something Lang would like to see come south again.


"It's a pretty sweet deal," he said. "I would just like to get that deal again for UNLV"

From Desert Companion: We're number top!


Robert Lang, executive director, Brookings Mountain Institute ay UNLV.

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