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Live from UNLV: With 30,000 students and 2,000 educators, how do admins maintain balance?


There are more than 30,000 students who go to UNLV. There are another 2,000 professors and instructors. How do you maintain the balance between keeping tuition low and raising salaries for staff?

Should the school invest more in academics, which helps students grow or athletics, which helps draw more students? And now that UNLV is an R1 research institution, what are we doing to make sure the state is getting a good return on its investments?

Well, it’s University President Keith Whitfield's job to sort that out.

When Whitfield started the job in August 2020, it was during the midst of COVID-19, racial tensions, and tough budget cuts.

Now, more than three years later, conditions at UNLV are looking up. Enrollment continues to hold steady despite increasing inflation. The university has maintained its top-tier research status, and the Rebels are making a bowl run.

However, in many ways, UNLV and universities around the country are still dealing with the fallout of the pandemic, especially regarding student well-being.

“I'm concerned about their preparation mentally,” said UNLV President Keith Whitfield. “These were such tough times for such an extended period of time that one of the things that we've done at the university is double our number of counselors in our counseling and psychological services office, making sure that we have other supports for students, and so that they really know that they can come here and be able to thrive.”

One issue that might complicate that goal is increased faculty pay. Lawmakers approved a measure earlier this year requiring the raises despite not fully funding the mandate. It’s forced the state’s colleges and universities to reevaluate their budgets heading into the current fiscal year.

According to Whitfield, the university can afford the pay increases throughout the current biennium. After that, the institution will need to increase revenues. However, Whitfield told State of Nevada that raising tuition is the last place the school’s administration wants to look for cash.

“We want to avoid, if possible, raising tuition any more than it's already planned to raise, [as] it's scheduled to raise each year,” Whitfield said, “but we're going to need a little bit more. It's just trying to figure out where we're going to get it, it means that we've got to re-envision how we do things here.”

One area he hopes pays off is the school’s research arm. UNLV’s R1 research designation will allow the school to benefit from patents and breakthroughs developed within its purview. Although he admits, it’s not a panacea.

“We've got to figure out ways in which we can figure out ways to take that research and turn it into intellectual property, things, licensing sorts of things,” said Whitfield. “We have a lot of very interesting entrepreneurial faculty who do that. If we do a little bit more of that, we can help fill in some of the gaps, but we're going to need that continued support [from the state].”

UNLV has also seen an increase in its athletics revenue in recent years, with 2022 marking a record of nearly $1.3 million in net profit. He attributes that success to the university’s growing fan base and its links to the community.

“Part of that exciting college experience is being part of a community, and part of the community is sometimes driven by you getting to cheer all together for your team. Going back to those times that we've had before, I always tell people, you got to be a fan when you win, and you got to be a fan when you lose.”

Guests: Keith E. Whitfield, president, UNLV; Leah Chan Grinvald, dean, William S. Boyd School of Law; Gabrielle Angle, president, UNLV Alumni Association; Blake Douglas, vice president and homecoming coordinator, UNLV Alumni Association

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Paul serves as KNPR's producer and reporter in Northern Nevada. Based in Reno, Paul specializes in covering state government and the legislature.
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