Big Goals Achieved – Realizing Our Vision

2019 State of the University Address
President Marc A. Johnson
October 8, 2019

Over the past several years, the University has matured and deepened its impact in numerous ways. We set big goals and aligned our resources and activities with the needs of our students and our citizens. Some big goals were achieved and accomplishments are many. With several important goals now realized, this address will describe how the University’s achievements of the past few years gave the institution a foundation upon which to build our future.


In 2013 the University set some stretch goals:

  1. Respond to enrollment growth with quality, experiential learning and move toward a student-to-facultyratio of 18:1, the median of our peers;
  2. Develop a high impact research University measured by Carnegie Classification R-1, Very High Research;
  3. Serve as a pillar of economic development for Nevada.


Regarding the first goal, in the last decade, enrollment increased by 12.5 percent to 21,000 students. Experiential learning grew with a number of maker spaces, flipped classes, increased undergraduate and graduate research opportunities, and national team competitions. And, this fall, we achieved the student-to-faculty ratio of 18:1. This ratio is important to replicate the level of exposure of our students to faculty in learning environments equivalent to our R-1 peer institutions.

The University continues to attract well-prepared students as freshmen enter with stronger ACT scores (23.8) and High School GPAs (3.44). The number of National Merit, Presidential, and National Hispanic Scholars enrolled this fall is 727, 200 more than last fall. Well-prepared students find us to be a university where they can develop their potential in an encouraging and affordable environment.

The composition of our student body changes continually. The number of undergraduate students declined slightly while the number of graduate students grew significantly. Diversity expanded as students of color now represent 40 percent of our students. The new Pearson-supported, on-line, graduate degrees are proving attractive to an older and geographically dispersed cohort. We continue to look for a private partner to help recruit more international students to contribute to the mission of educating globally aware graduates.

The University of Nevada, Reno continues to be an access university. Our doors are open to all who qualify, and we support programs in the middle and high schools to encourage students of low-income and first generation families to attend University programs like Dean’s Future Scholars, GEAR Up, Upward Bound, TRiO, First in the Pack and High School Pell. This year, student financial aid and loans rose to more than $180 million. We are learning through experience that mentoring and encouragement in the early college years greatly increases graduation performance.

The University’s emphasis on student success results in an above-peer retention rate of 81 percent. Our standard 6-year graduation rate rose to 61 percent. There has been tremendous progress with our 4-year graduation rate, which rose to 40 percent, more than double what it was a decade ago. For the first time, last year the University awarded over 5,000 degrees.

Within the context of these great successes, there is one significant challenge – the clear gap in graduation rates for African-American and Latinx students. The University is piloting additional mentoring and tutoring approaches to close this gap. We are committed to graduating every student.

In terms of national ratings, last month, U. S. News and World Report ranked our university in the top tier of national universities for the 10th straight year. We ranked higher in peer comparisons among national universities by both U. S. News and World Report and the Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education rankings.

Wow! This university just keeps getting better for the students we serve. To the classified employees who greet our students every day and keep the campus safe, warm and beautiful; to the administrative faculty who mentor, advise and support the social, housing and financial needs of our students; to the academic faculty who create exciting, modern learning experiences; and, to student leaders who are full partners in building a sense of belonging for students on campus – I say, THANK YOU and CONGRATULATIONS for a job exceedingly well done!


The second goal of developing a high impact research university, measured by Carnegie Classification R-1, Very High Research, also was achieved in December last year. The classification is measured by expenditures in research and doctoral graduates of all disciplines, including the sciences, engineering, social sciences and humanities. This classification represents a mature, comprehensive university where all fields of academic, scholarly and research endeavor matter. When Provost Carman and I visited all of the academic departments in 2017 and 2018, we got the feeling that faculty wanted to be part of not only a quality, research university but a top-ranked, comprehensive university identified as Carnegie R-1.

This goal has included several objectives:

  1. To create a richer environment for faculty, graduate and undergraduate student research participation, making the University a “destination” environment;
  2. To build a research enterprise complementary with the growing Nevada economy, and
  3. To create a research and innovation enterprise which catalyzes economic growth for northern Nevada.

Actions taken were intentional. We developed a nationally competitive research support infrastructure, expanded our core facilities and established the new Nevada Research and Innovation Corporation to support commercialization of intellectual properties.

Since 2014, we added 235 faculty positions, 80 percent of which are tenure-track, and 165 funded graduate student positions, plus those added on grant projects. In the last six years, annual research awards climbed by 54 percent and annual research expenditures climbed by 73 percent to $150 million. The rankings, research support services and funding numbers are important, but the real results of research are the life changing achievements. We have fundamental neuroscience research in sight, hearing and memory addressing causes and solutions for sensory and memory loss. We have earthquake research to make bridges and buildings more resilient to severe events. We have world-wide recognition for our smooth muscle physiologists in the medical school and research programs to quickly diagnose catastrophic diseases and new treatments and hope for those with debilitating diseases, like muscular dystrophy. We have applied work to make our roadway pavements last longer, to keep our water cleaner, to make renewable energy, water-efficient crops, wildlife, native grasslands and waterways more sustainable. We are deeply involved in the development and application of autonomous transportation systems.

Our colleagues have excelled in addressing grand challenges which improve people’s lives, at a level recognized nationally as a peer with Carnegie Very High Research institutions. Congratulations to the students, classified employees, administrative and academic faculty for these achievements. Let’s recognize our colleagues.


The third goal is to serve as a pillar of economic development for Nevada by engaging with the community. Engagement means truly embedding the University in the community in true partnerships. Together we address the challenges of the workforce and industry needs of Nevada. We enhance a smoother, faster path for business to achieve innovation and development. We find the needed bridges that connect our community with our campus through arts performances, speaker and educational events, programming and partnerships that improve the quality of life for many people.

As a university, we are embedded in the business community, working with all sizes of enterprises. The Nevada Applied Research Center opens the doors of the University for private and public businesses to use our expertise and expensive analytical equipment. One of our first clients was Tesla. Then the larger industries came to the area, the University adjusted curricula to prepare our students for the new technologies being applied. The opportunities for student internships at these companies are many.

The InNEVation Center, powered by Switch, downtown, just now completing its fourth year, is now the community hub of entrepreneurship where startup companies are spawned and connected to mentors, to capital, to one another and to the University. The InNEVation Center is expanding into the Southside School nearby, called the Southside Studio, where we will partner with Tesla to develop a robotics educational laboratory for youth. Companies also are attracted to our BioSciences Entrepreneurship Laboratory (BEL) in the Applied Research Center where they find access to very expensive analytical equipment which is difficult to find elsewhere. These companies created 195 jobs and raised over $55 million in startup capital while getting started in University facilities. Several of these companies gained their footing, moved into commercial facilities in the region, and “graduated” from University facilities.

The University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine, just celebrated its 50th anniversary having trained more than 3,500 medical students, residents and fellows in that time. UNR Med, just two years into its transformation as a full, four-year school in northern Nevada, provides patient care and clinical training in an expanded clinical platform involving numerous partnerships with northern Nevada medical centers. dditionally, UNR Med enrolled its second class of their Physician Assistant, 27-month training program.

Long a medical school with excellent physician education and basic bio-medical research, UNR Med is embarking on a significant expansion of the clinical research enterprise with appointment of a new Associate Dean for Clinical Research and expansion into new clinical research spaces on the north campus and in the community.

The University opens its doors to the public in numerous other ways. peaker series are offered by many of our schools. The Performing Arts connect the University with the community through a multitude of music, art and dance performances. Our campus museums also open their doors to the public a couple times a year. orensic anthropology faculty and graduate students went to the scene of the Camp Fire in Butte County, Calif. to help identify human remains. Crews from the University of Nevada, Reno Seismological Lab installed the 11th and final tower and camera in the AlertTahoe fire camera network, to help protect the Tahoe Basin from catastrophic wildfire. UNR Public Radio earned a national Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in innovation for its English/Spanish bilingual programming, produced in collaboration with the Reynolds School of Journalism’s Noticiero Móvil. Cooperative Extension develops youth and community leadership through knowledge-based programs in every county. Continuing Education offers educational experiences for citizens from youth at Kid’s University to elders at the Osher Life-Long Learning Institute (OLLI).

Wolf Pack athletics also engages the community of sports fans. ntercollegiate sports started at the University of Nevada in the late nineteenth century. Athletics celebrated the 100th year of women in sports at our university by inducting an all-women’s class into the Wolf Pack Sports Hall of Fame last month. Last year saw record attendance in Lawlor at basketball games and this year all eyes are on the success of the Volleyball team. n many years Wolf Pack student-athletes lead the Mountain West Conference in community outreach and involvement.

The University of Nevada, Reno is a full partner with Nevada’s communities, contributing to business opportunity, workforce and community culture. Let’s thank our colleagues who bring knowledge and culture to our communities.


We achieved many big goals. We did this together as we emerged from a recessionary period and budget reductions with strong momentum. We focused on what truly matters – the students we graduate, the world-improving research we conduct, the life-changing engagement we have with our community. We need to celebrate the milestones we achieved and hold onto them as we move forward. We will continue to share the journey, together. In the coming months and years we will come together, listen to one another, and draft what our future will look like.

The University of Nevada, Reno has developed a strong, supportive, friendly culture with genuine character. This is shown every day in the way new students, families and visitors are welcomed to the campus. This character was demonstrated in response to the July 5 explosion in Argenta Hall. veryone came together to care for those affected, working long hours to help with immediate and longer term adjustments. Selfless care and cooperation to achieve safety and accommodation were demonstrated as the character of this campus community. Many people in the community have mentioned what a miracle it was that the campus could respond in just six weeks to open the fall semester on time. respond that the miracle was produced by the miracle workers who came together with uncommon dedication to make ready a wonderful learning experience for our students. Let’s recognize again the people of housing and dining, police services, facilities, purchasing and contracting, and the literally hundreds of others who responded.

The recently released Campus Climate Survey shows that we have work to do to more fully develop this campus character of care and cooperation. While a large majority feel comfortable and safe in their daily lives at the University, this feeling is shared significantly less by hose in the categories of our most diverse members – including gender, race, sexual orientation, disability, low-income and some religious groups. A significant portion of our students and employees do not have a sense of belonging here. There are many expressions of incidents of conflict within units. Our administration will develop programs to enhance awareness of these issues, and to help provide some of the tools that are needed for our campus to understand and remedy these issues. It is equally important, that all of us recognize that everyone on our campus has an essential role in achieving our mission and that it is the responsibility of all of us to build a culture of acceptance, reinforcement, and inclusion. All of us can be more aware of interpersonal conflicts and individual slights, and proactively intervene to protect and include one another.

There’s no question that events, both on our campus and in our world, challenge our values. We live our values every day. On the news just this week, the government of China threatened the whole NBA enterprise in China because one NBA employee tweeted support for the Hong Kong protesters. In this country we get to express our views and even get to hear opposing perspectives without the government shutting us down. In another incident, Ellen Degeneres was seen at a football game with former President George W. Bush. Twitter feeds went wild expressing that Ellen Degeneres had gone to the other side. Her public response provided great perspective: We can be kind to everyone and we can maintain friendships with people we disagree with. Civil protests, challenging speakers’ assumptions and conclusions, and expressing opposing viewpoints are part of the strength of this country as we move culture and policy forward. Vilification and cyber-bullying do not add to understanding. At a learning institution open to all, we stand together against bigotry, racism and hate, but it takes more than this. We must elevate the discourse to seek understanding to build a culture of respect and inclusion for everyone.

One way to have a voice in our future is through the development of our next strategic plan. The current strategic plan was developed during 2014 and covered 2015 through 2021. We soon will ask all of you to participate in the planning process. In drafting the new direction for our campus, we need all of your voices if we are to be successful in implementing our next six-year strategic plan. This plan will chart a course to continue with our strengths, develop new directions to address grand challenges, and respond to the insights gained through our Campus Climate Survey.

Achievement of goals of 18:1 student-to-faculty ratio and Carnegie R-1 took great investment of available resources. Now that these two goals have been achieved, there will be more focus on internal objectives, such as teaching loads, faculty salaries, and quality facilities equivalent to our R-1 peers. In an environment of fairly flat revenues, this will take focused planning together with administration and academic and administrative units.

The University continues its collaborations with TMCC, WNC and GBC. We have started agreements in the academic, student service and business areas. Part of this approach is to design pathways to bachelor’s degrees while starting in community colleges and finishing at the University, or enhancing a four-year degree at a community college with access to upper division courses at the University. We will continue to pursue these opportunities.

The Board of Regents has offered an educational challenge to all teaching institutions. The Board passed a rule that Nevada public institutions will no longer offer remedial coursework without at least co-enrollment in a regular college class beginning in 2021. The evidence is clear that remedial education is an inadequate start to college, as our own data in early math classes has shown. Co-curricular instruction is different than remedial instruction and requires a higher level of teacher preparation; rising to this challenge will be both effective and expensive and we are exploring how to cover these new costs.

The University will continue to grow research expenditures and doctoral graduates to assure retention of our R-1 Carnegie classification and truly deepen the University as a high-quality, comprehensive university, attracting our faculty and staff to consider this campus as a career opportunity. This will require better understanding among public and representative bodies that research is important in solving the grand challenges of our time and contributing to the vibrancy of the economy. Silicon Valley and the Research Triangle Park are often mentioned as examples of large industry innovation centers located near strong, research universities. In these cases, the universities preceded industry development. UNLV, DRI and UNR are working together to build communication instruments to inform our publics of the value of research to the community.

Capital construction and renovation will continue to be an important action by the University to meet classroom, laboratory and programming spaces for an evolving campus. Strong programs require people, operating support and facilities. e have been fortunate to have excellent support of donors, student fees, liquidation of assets, and other institutional resources to achieve these projects. Our Development professionals are successfully leading the Comprehensive Campaign, “Building What Comes Next.” Thanks to their work and our generous donors, we are well on our way to reaching our $500 million goal. To date, we have raised $386 million. Our donors are extremely important in providing that “margin of excellence” in University programs which state funds and student fees cannot reach. Thank you to our community foundations and supporters. We could not achieve these results without you.

Now we are committed to building out the Gateway area on the southern edge of campus, with new College of Business and Life Sciences Laboratory buildings and a parking garage. New buildings and older building renovations provide more and more modern spaces to support quality teaching, research and community engagement. Current renovations include portions of the Chemistry and Physics Buildings and Neuroscience labs in Mack Social Science; all are a planned package to make our research labs more attractive and functional for faculty and students. Employees in Facilities Services, Contracting and Purchasing have contributed greatly to campus expansion. Let’s thank them for their tremendous efforts.


We haven’t gotten to this point in our history without teamwork. We have worked together on our campus and we have worked and partnered with our community. We have faced challenges and we have overcome those challenges together. These are defining characteristics of who we are. We work together, we look out for each other, and we strive to always improve our University. This is why we’ve achieved so many big goals over the past several years. And this is why we look to an exciting, dynamic and bright future, with many more goals ahead of us yet to be achieved. We will do this work as we always have – collaboratively, innovatively, and empathetically. This is a time for shared vision as we further define our undeniable value to our students, to our co-workers, to our community, to our state and to our world.

State of the University Address - 2018