President Marc Johnson stressed a rapidly growing infrastructure for research, plans to make the campus more diverse and the ways the University serves as a catalyst for economic development during his annual "State of the University" address on Tuesday.
Johnson's 36-minute address, delivered before more than 250 people plus an online audience in the Glick Ballroom of the Joe Crowley Student Union, emphasized the theme that the University is growing and "deepening its impact in every dimension of our mission," he said.
Johnson addressed challenges related to enrollment growth, how the University is planning to attain the highest impact research classification measured by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, known as "R1," and the ways in which the University's research and innovation is helping transform and diversify the economy of Nevada.
Johnson also speaking as a citizen and registered voter in Washoe County, endorsed the November ballot initiative, WC-1, also known as the "Save our Schools" initiative.
WC-1 is asking the county's voters to authorize a sales and use tax of 0.54 percent to fund Washoe County School District capital projects, including the acquisition, construction, repair and renovation of school facilities.
"Education across our K-12 school system has profound implications," Johnson said. "I support making education a priority. I will be voting for WC-1."
In explaining why the R1 high impact research classification needs to be a top goal, Johnson emphasized the classification's benefits.
He said the University had recently contracted the Las Vegas consulting firm, Applied Analysis, to help the institution better define the benefits. The study by Applied Analysis showed that the University's generation of jobs would increase by about 2,000. The economic output associated with the University for the statewide economy would increase from $1.1 billion to $1.4 billion.
"Research universities are vibrant generators of income flow into a region," Johnson said. "They attract a stable flow of faculty, students and industry. They are generators of intellectual properties which serve as a catalyst for new industry.
"The goal of reaching Carnegie R1 remains one of our top priorities."
Johnson said the goal is achievable because the University is making notable gains in research grants and expenditures, graduate student enrollment, the production of master's and doctoral program graduates, growth in graduate student stipends to become more competitive in the recruiting marketplace for graduate student talent, as well increases in the number of tenure-track faculty and expansion of research infrastructure. The expansion of research infrastructure has included statewide partnerships and programs that have provided resources to improve efforts to create patents, licensing agreements, and to create startup and spinoff companies from the campus.
Johnson said because of this effort, the University has experienced "accelerating growth" in research expenditures from $87 million in 2013 to more than $94 million last year.
Interwoven in this effort, Johnson said, is the University's role as catalyst for a more diversified, knowledge-based economy for northern Nevada.
He said the University's opening last fall of the University of Nevada, Reno Innevation Center, Powered by Switch only a few blocks away from City Hall in downtown Reno has helped tighten relationships between the business and entrepreneurial community and the campus.
He said more than 340 events have been held at the facility since January.
"Had we not captured this opportunity now, our region would be behind in an important part of the entrepreneurial ecosystem," he said. "Not only this center, but expanded relationships between the University and EDAWN (the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada), GOED (the Governor's Office of Economic Development) and the City of Reno, and numerous businesses and agencies have placed the University as a vital catalyst for economic development."
Johnson encouraged the University's faculty to take advantage of December's Board of Regents approval to add "entrepreneurship" to their list of accomplishments for annual evaluations. He said the University has a royalty incentive policy for faculty who start businesses based on their research.
Johnson said the University is responding to challenges related to enrollment growth through a "slower growth" enrollment strategy to help reduce the University's current 22 to 1 student to faculty ratio to 18 to 1 in the next few years.
The strategy saw the University's enrollment rise, but not at the levels of the previous two years of about 1,000 students per year. This fall's enrollment, 21,353 - a record - was an increase of about 450 students. In parallel with the strategy has been the addition of new faculty. Sixty new faculty started work this fall, which brought the total of new hires to 166 faculty added since fall 2014.
"By combining these two approaches, we should see a small reduction in student-to-faculty ratio with the intention to enhance both our learning experience and research productivity," Johnson said.
Johnson also reported the University's student enrollment is as diverse as ever. The proportion of students of color has gone up from 35 to 36 percent this fall, and the campus' Hispanic/Latino enrollment has grown from 17 to 18.5 percent.
Related to the growth in diversity, Johnson said, will be an added emphasis on diversity programming and training.
"Diversity will receive significant attention this year," Johnson said. He noted that the University must "take more seriously the hiring of a more diverse faculty. As the proportion of our students who are of color increases, our faculty composition must change to reflect our student population."
Johnson said the coming year will see professional enhancement courses for faculty to better tailor learning environments to diverse populations, as well as Safe-Zone Ally and Vet Smart training.
"To do all of our jobs most effectively, it is not enough to know our numbers about diversity, but to be very aware about how our recognition of identity, or language, our teaching formats, and our work environments, can add to genuine, comfortable inclusion of everyone in the University community," he said.
Johnson also provided an update on the University's priorities for the 2017 legislative session.
Faculty salary enhancements, perhaps in the form of merit raises, are a "first priority" for the Board of Regents' state budget proposal, Johnson said.
He also said effort will be made to continue use of the state funding formula. The current formula results in additional funding at a fixed dollar amount for weighted student credit hours completed. This is an area in which the University has excelled, meaning that if the formula continues to be followed, state fund revenue to the University "should grow significantly," Johnson said.
Another legislative priority is funding for a proposed new building for the College of Engineering. The proposal is for the State of Nevada to fund half and the University to fund half of post-design project cost, or about $41.5 million each.
Given how the College of Engineering is the University's fastest growing college, and that the state has indicated that it needs many more engineers to realize a more technologically and digitally driven economy, Johnson said "capacity expansion for education and research in engineering is critical."
Even with several important proposals planned for the legislature, Johnson cautioned that "financial resources are always an issue in a fast-paced growth environment. We would like state funding assistance for facilities, student caseload growth and employee salaries. But our growth cannot wait on the next state dollar. We need to be entrepreneurial and generate most of our resource growth to match our needs."
In addition to an entrepreneurial approach from faculty, Johnson said several units and programs on the campus had found novel ways to grow self-generating revenue, such as net revenues received from a partnership with the private online firm Pearson to grow degrees in Social Work, as well as the Medical School's development of a new financial model in collaboration with Renown Health to make the offering of medical services more self-sufficient.
He also noted that much of the campus' recent expansion in capital improvements had been financed by the University rather than the state. Since 2011, only $23.8 million of $387 million in facility improvements came from the state.
"As a University, we must set high priority goals and figure out how to finance the projects and programs," he said. "This is a time for our University to act like entrepreneurs to design valuable programs and apply good business plans for sustainability."
Johnson said that although the agenda for the coming years in ambitious, he was confident was the University was up to meeting the challenge.
"We all are in this exciting time of growth and heightened impact together," he said. "The state of the University is strong, because our productivity, our cohesion around our core values and missions, our cultures of student success and collaboration, and our attitudes of friendliness displayed by our people, are strong."