With one in four students dropping out of high school, miles of foreclosed homes and scarce job prospects, the city of Las Vegas has a full plate of problems to combat. For those students who make it past high school graduation and go on to UNLV, there are more challenges to face.
Currently, the four-year graduation rate at UNLV sits at a mere 14%. Compared to the national average of a 64% six-year graduation rate, UNLV’s six-year graduation rate doesn’t measure up at 39%.
Mark Riggins, a business and accounting teacher at the East Career and Technical Academy within the Clark County School District who also serves as the Director of the Educational Taskforce for the Clark County Republican Party, believes that societal pressure to go to college may be to blame for UNLV’s low graduation rates. “The idea that everyone should go to college is a disservice [to society] because we’re telling kids that you’re not important if you don’t go to a university.”
UNLV College Libertarians president, Lou Pombo mirrored Riggins sentiments, saying, that societies have many facets, “Everything can’t be an intellectual class, that’s impossible.” According to the Executive Director for the Nevada Youth Coalition, J.T. Creedon, “I never wanted to go to college. I wanted to be a musician. That’s not a typical university major and it’s better suited for a technical school. There’s definitely a stigma attached to some private technical schools, such as University of Phoenix, which may not be accepted by an employer or might not be accredited.”
Others argue that Las Vegas’ chief industry, the service industry, has more than a little to do with UNLV’s low graduation rates. Andria Coleman, a senator for the College of Liberal Arts at UNLV said, “It’s the reality of this town that you can make $90,000 [a year] parking cars or $3,000 a week stripping… even though this is a college town, you can make a whole lot more money without a degree.” Pombo agreed, saying, “You need some type of working-class and [students] realize that in this town, they can make more money being in the working class than with a degree.”
While some students skip college altogether, others are showing up for a year and leaving as evidenced by UNLV’s first-year retention rate of 76%. This is just slightly below the US average of 77% and much lower than the 84% that Nevada’s western neighbor, California, boasts. Creedon explained, “There needs to be an emphasis on steering people in the right direction. Students just go to college and have no idea what they want to do with their life because everybody tells them that college is the way they should go.” “It’s a mistake to think every kid has to go to college… not everyone is cut out for it,” lamented Riggins.
Creedon was concerned about university staff not steering undecided students in the right direction. According to Creedon, “the advisors don’t help [incoming freshman] adequately with finding out which path to take. We need more front-end work to help these incoming students if we want them to stick around.”
UNLV Justice, Lance Arberry said that it’s important for UNLV to work to raise their graduation rates, saying, “Obviously, 14% is really bad for our university. It needs to change.” Creedon wants people to remember that while 14% is low and that a 100% graduation rate would be the ultimate goal, there are other factors to consider. “There are still a lot of people who want acting lessons or use pro tools but don’t enroll in a degree program but they reached their professional goal which wouldn’t be reflected in the graduation rate.”