Nevada Business Hall of Fame Speech 2012

On February 16th, the Lee Business School inducted the Englestad Foundation, Gibson Family and Oscar Goodman into the Nevada Business Hall of Fame. The event drew more than 450 people to the Mirage. The inductees join the likes of Bill Boyd, Barbara Greenspun, Jim Rodgers, Steve Wynn, Claudine Williams, and Don Synder to name just a few. As part of the evening’s festivities the Dean comments on the state of the School and highlights some of our accomplishments. This year’s speech is provided below……

This is the time in the program where I get to highlight some of the School’s successes over the past year and introduce you to some of the people who make important contributions to these efforts.

Some of you may have heard that we became the Lee Business School this past year. Thanks to a very generous gift from Ted and Doris Lee, the Lee Business School will be adding ten endowed professors to our ranks over the next few years. The gift also provides significant scholarship monies for students and dollars to fund a variety of community initiatives. Ted, Doris and their family are here with us tonight. I would ask them to stand and be recognized. If you haven’t already met the Lees, please stop by and say hello. They are a delightful family and we are proud to carry their name: Thank you Ted, Doris, Greg, Ernie and the rest of the Lee family for such a transformational gift.

Each of tonight’s NBHOF honorees has made significant civic and charitable contributions to this community. I know Ted and Doris want LBS to be an important resource for the community, a place where people can come to get solutions to their problems and further their career goals. So I would like to take a few minutes to highlight some of the ways in which LBS is partnering with others to make a difference in Las Vegas.

The biggest impact of LBS comes through its 13,000 alumni, 70% of whom live in Las Vegas and hundreds of whom operate businesses here. Several alumni are in the audience tonight. Among them are:

Linda Rheinberger. Linda is a graduate of our MBA program, a member of the LBS Alumni board and owner of One Source Realty and Management. She is the past president of both the Nevada Association of Realtors and the Nevada Women’s Council of Realtors.

Rossi Rolenkotter really needs no introduction. He is, of course, President and CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. Like Linda he is a graduate of our MBA program, and has offered his time, money and expertise to a variety of charitable organizations including St. Jude’s Ranch, United Way, March of Dimes and Boys & Girls Clubs of Las Vegas.

Pam Egan. Pam is a graduate of our Executive MBA program and currently serves as vice president for Strategic Operations at the Public Education Foundation, an organization dedicated to advancing quality educational opportunities for all children here in Nevada. She is also a member of several community groups and the Governor’s Workforce Investment Board. Pam has been invited to speak on workforce development issues to several groups including the Brookings Institution. Oh, and she puts up with my good friend Chris Hudgins, Dean of Liberal Arts here at UNLV.

Paul Biafore. Paul is our 2011 Alumnus of the Year and a graduate of our management program. Paul is VP and residential director for Merrill Lynch. He is lifetime member of the UNLV Legends and the UNLV Alumni Association and a member of the LBS executive advisory board. His humility, sincerity and commitment to the community are qualities we seek to instill in all of our students.

Let me mention one more: Coach Dave Rice, another proud alum of our MBA program and a guy who seems to understand how to recruit, motivate and lead a successful team….he learned that from us, not Tark (okay maybe Tark had a little to do with it too.)

Our alumni are supported by a number of faculty and staff who also make a huge difference in our community. Let me also introduce you again to Andrew Hardin. Andrew is Director of our Center for Entrepreneurship, which has partnered with the Las Vegas Business Press and local entrepreneur Dominic Anthony Marrocco to sponsor the Southern Nevada Business Plan Competition. The competition is open to anyone in southern Nevada with a new business idea and offers cash and start-up assistance for the winners. This year’s winners were Geyser Flow Control, a metal disk that can be affixed to a sprinkler rise that limits water flow in case of malfunction. The team included a former gaming executive and students from our MBA and MS in MIS programs. It is a great example of how experience can partner with youthful enthusiasm to make great things happen. It is also yet another example of how important education is to innovation and valuable Andrew Hardin is to entrepreneurship here in Las Vegas.

Then there is our dynamic duo of Nasser and Rennae Daneshvary. Nasser is director of the Lied Institute for Real Estate Studies. His wife Rennae is Nevada director of Kids Count and associate director of CBER at UNLV. Kids Count is the definitive source of information on the well-being of children in Nevada. The project is underwritten by the Anne E. Casey Foundation and the annual report brings together a wide range of people from organizations and agencies involved with children and families in Nevada.

Nasser is everywhere: live, in-print, on television and the internet. If you haven’t seen him, you are not paying attention. He has been at the forefront of the housing policy debate and efforts to help homeowners. Real estate professionals and government officials across the state are drawing on his expertise to craft policies and implement changes that may mitigate the foreclosure crisis and help more Nevadans hold on to the dream of home ownership.

Nasser and Rennae are now involved in a joint effort to study the impact of financially distressed homes on juvenile crime here in Clark County. They are great examples of how applied research can shape public policy and make a difference in the lives of Nevadans.

This commitment to civic engagement extends to our students. Let me introduce you to Dr. Dan McAlister and two members of our Students in Free Enterprise Team, Jeremy Hosetter and Zack Buchanan. Dr. McAlister is one of our most beloved instructors. Not a semester goes by without me receiving testimonials from students about his commitment to their learning experience. Among his many contributions, he is the faculty mentor to our SIFE team. Each year the SIFE students perform a number of community-based projects and highlight their efforts in regional and national competitions. My favorite project this year is “Fishing for the Future.” A partnership with the Clark County School District and Division of Welfare that provides a sustainable curriculum that focuses on budgeting, positive self-image, goals, resume writing, financial literacy, and college preparation. The SIFE team has made it to the national finals the last two years and we expect great things from then again this year. Good luck to Zack, Jeremy and the entire team.

Finally, let me introduce you to two business students who are also Engelstad Scholars, named in recognition of the generous contribution of one of our honorees tonight. The Engelstad scholars program requires students to complete 100 hours of community service each year. Scholars have worked with a variety of local charities including Three Square, Goodie Two Shoes, and the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy. I’d like to introduce Mayra Dominguez, who is volunteering at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Las Vegas, and Aldrich Sinampaga who’s learning about the nonprofit world while serving others at Three Square Food Bank.

To quote Herbert Spencer, the great aim of education is not knowledge, but action. The Lee Business School and UNLV are deeply committed to putting our ideas into action to create jobs, influence government policy and help those in need. In this way, our alumni, faculty, staff and students embrace the same values as the people we honor here tonight: People who have given back in an effort to provide a more vital, inclusive and compassionate community. It is to their stories that we now turn.

I now turn the microphone back over to Jim and Jessica to continue tonight’s festivities. Thank you and enjoy the rest of your evening.

Where are all the IT Students?

Recently, I spent the morning with President Smatresk, Provost Bowers, four other deans, three faculty, the State Director of Economic Development and six top IT employers from around Las Vegas. The four hour long meeting had to cost more than $10,000 in salaried time.

What brought so many people with impressive titles into one room? The search for IT talent. The State of Nevada has identified the business information technology sector as one of its targets of opportunity for diversifying the Nevada economy. But local employers from Switch Communications to Caesars Entertainment to Zappos tell us they cannot find enough local talent to meet their needs. They recruit IT people from other states and hope they can keep them in Vegas. If Nevada is going to become a haven for segments of the IT industry, the state is going to have to develop more talent, offer incentives for IT professionals to move here, or both

The meeting focused on whether UNLV was graduating the type of students that meet the industry’s needs, how we could get on the forefront of IT education, and how we could graduate more IT students. Currently, UNLV offers degrees in both computer science and management information systems (MIS). The undergraduate programs in computer science and MIS each graduate about 30 students a year, the masters programs about 20 each, for a total of about 100. The numbers are small, but graduates do get jobs, suggesting the programs are meeting some part of the industry’s needs.

Meetings about IT curriculum, student numbers and industry needs make my head hurt. I can never understand exactly what we are talking about. While I consider myself a pretty sophisticated IT user, I have about as much knowledge of how this all works as I do about quantum physics. And while people talk about IT as if it is a single industry with a common set of required skills, I doubt that. So to put the discussion in terms a Michigan boy can understand, I keep saying things like: “If someone came to me and said auto industry professionals are hard to find, I would want to know if these were people who were needed to design the car, assemble the car, sell the car, race the car, service the car, or provide the garage. I wouldn’t offer a single degree program to accomplish all these things. So, which people are we talking about?” Sometimes I get an answer. Mostly I make people irritated. You can imagine what I would engender if I said: “Maybe you just need to pay more?”

That said, we don’t graduate many students in these areas. Curriculum may be part of the problem. The industry people at the meeting all agreed that graduates need to have strong technical skills, a good understanding of business and the ability to communicate with non-technical folks. That is hard to accomplish in just one degree program, especially with the rapid pace of change in this industry. A cutting-edge program would be a source of competitive advantage in both attracting students and helping them get jobs. But the small number of students going into IT programs is an issue at many institutions not just UNLV.

So why aren’t more students choosing IT degrees and careers? Many techies are entrepreneurial spirits who may not like the formality of college. Everyone wants to create the next Google or Facebook and some IT entrepreneurs are at the forefront of the movement to encourage students to skip college and start companies instead. Creating more technology entrepreneurship programs that focus on business start-ups, might draw a different type of student. Yet I doubt that would satisfy industry. They want employees. It is also possible that the IT industry follows the cobweb model whereby demand ebbs and flows quickly and the supply of talent takes longer to adjust to changing wages and job opportunities. If so, we don’t need to spend money on program development, just help students see the emerging opportunities and watch them respond. (Hint: If you are undecided on your career, consider becoming an IT professional: employers are waiting to hire you.) My greatest fear is that we will create a greater variety of IT programs all of which will be sparsely attended: More program cost for the same results. So help me out here: how can we make IT programs more attractive to you? Your thoughts please?

A Simple Framework for Funding Higher Education

In my five years at UNLV this is the first spring that I haven’t had to cut my budget. It is a refreshing change. Nevada’s economy has a long road to full recovery, but stability has given state officials the opportunity to catch their breaths and consider how to fund higher education going forward. For his part, Chancellor Klaich has suggested a sharp break from the past that would be a huge step in the right direction.  People typically resist change. Those who do appeal to caution, claiming a new approach is too complicated and produces too much change too soon.  This is nonsense. Creating a viable financial model for Nevada higher education as Chancellor Klaich suggests comes down to getting agreement on just four issues.

First, is the amount of tax revenue the state wants to invest in NSHE.  This is an inherently political decision that should be tied to Nevada’s economic development strategy.  The ultimate answer depends on both how and against whom we want to compete. A different higher education system is needed to follow an entrepreneurial, high value added, market differentiation strategy than to support a low cost provider strategy. The former strategy focuses on charging universities with creating employers not just employees and requires more state investment in university research and development than the later.  If we want to compete in this manner, we also have to look at the other states that are pursuing this strategy and how much they are investing in higher education to achieve their goals. The point is, the amount of dollars allocated to higher education, is not a technical issue that can be decided by a “formula’.  It is something that requires open dialogue among elected officials who are willing to go on the record about the amount of block funding higher education needs to meet the state’s objectives.

The second issue is the relative importance of the research universities (UNR and UNLV) in the state’s economic strategy.  Research universities are critical to an entrepreneurial, high-productivity, market differentiation strategy.  They are much less important to a low cost provider strategy.  Research universities cost much more per student than the other institutions in the system. The competition for expert faculty is fierce and takes place on a global scale. The types of experiences that students need to gain maximum benefit from being in a research university environment are also different and more expensive than at institutions elsewhere in the system. Well known cost ratios can be used to understand the magnitude of these differences. The allocation of state monies to the systems’ institutions needs to reflect this difference along with the relative importance of the various institutions to the state’s objectives and competitive strategy.

Third there needs to be an agreement that each institution keep the tuition and student fees they generate.  Most people would be shocked to learn that this is not currently the case.  Simply put, markets work.  If you want institutions to be sensitive to the needs of their students and the organizations that employ them give universities the power to set price, keep revenues and respond to supply and demand.  A market approach will encourage institutions to attract, retain and educate students who will go on to do great things after they graduate.  This is all good.  Embrace it.  More tuition-driven institutions will build reputation, produce a higher quality education, provide employers with better students and improve the value of their degree.  Concerns that greedy administrators will price a college education out of the market are misplaced.  As long as the state doesn’t bail out universities for living outside their means, schools will learn the true market value of their product and respond accordingly.

Finally, there is the issue of explicit incentives for universities to meet milestones of special value to the state.   This could come in the form of additional (or loss of) block funding or annual bonuses of one time funding. The milestone that has been getting the most attention is the number (or percent) of students the institution graduates.  I share the concern of many faculty that such an incentive would lead to grade inflation and a lowering of standards.  Frankly, if all I have to do is graduate students—that is easy.   Preparing students to compete in today’s marketplace is much harder.  In that spirit, I would propose that incentives be created for the number (or percent) of graduates who report that their degree has helped them further their career goals through a new job, a promotion or admission into the graduate school of their choice.  Collecting this type of information isn’t difficult: a simple solution would be to require students to fill out exit surveys as a condition of completing their degree.  If the incentive was significant say 5% of base funding, I guarantee you universities would act differently than they do today.

I know all of this talk of funding higher education can seem pretty remote when you are in the middle of a semester and struggling to keep up with classes, a job and family obligations.  But the size of your tuition bill, the quality of your educational experience and the future prosperity of Nevada are at stake.  Reform opportunities like this one only come along once a decade or so.  Make your voice heard. You can’t afford for the politicians to get it wrong.

An Insider’s Take on Choosing a College

I knew where I wanted to go to school when I was seven years old. Michigan had me with the winged helmets.  Fortunately, when I got there they had a pretty good economics department too.  This was fortunate because I went to Ann Arbor to study astronomy.  Plans change.

Students have more information about colleges today than I did when I was making my choice.  Universities have elaborate websites and produce materials that describe their programs and the student experience.  Several news outlets (e.g., Business Week, U.S. News) now rank universities using a variety of measures.  Frankly, most of this stuff isn’t very useful when deciding to attend one institution rather than another.

As far as the rankings go, being at a top 25 school is better than being at a top 50 school which is better than being at a top 100 school, but the national reach of academic reputation declines rapidly after the top 50.  If you want to change the world or become a leader in your profession some day, attending a top academic institution helps.  It gives you access to extraordinary people and opens doors. Yet even schools with great reputations differ in ways that will impact your experience. You want to explore these differences and find a school with an environment that is going to help you reach your full potential whether it is in the top 50 or not. To help you assess fit, you will need to meet with people from a few schools and get answers to a few questions:

(1)  What qualities or traits does the school want to instill in graduates and how do they do this? Schools will tell you that they produce “ethical decision makers,”  “risk-takers,” “innovators” or “data-driven decision makers”. Such labels are nice, but make them give you specific examples of how they develop these qualities in their students.  Then ask yourself if this is the type of experience you desire and whether these traits are the ones you want to develop while you are in college.

(2) How much access do students have to the most prominent faculty on campus? The person in front of the classroom is the most important part of your education.  All that fancy technology, nice living spaces, and great workout facilities they are going to show you doesn’t change this reality. You want to learn from experts whose insights and experiences change how you view the world. Some schools only use prominent faculty in graduate courses. Undergraduates never see them. Other schools require their most prominent faculty to teach students at all levels.  Don’t take administrators’ responses to this question at face value.  Talk to students who go to the institution. They will give you the real story.

(3) How much structure is there to the student experience? All schools will tell you that they have programs, but most really just have lists of courses students need to complete in order to get a degree.  There is a big difference.  Programs create experiences that build relationships and common perspective.  So for example, students may take classes in a sequence together in small groups (called cohorts). Or they may have culminating cross-disciplinary experiences that consume an entire semester of courses. If you know what you want to do when you graduate, highly structured programs have many advantages, but they do restrict choice.  If you are undecided about your major, you may want a school that is less structured and allows you to explore topics without slowing down your progress to graduation.

(4) What do you offer students at your institution that will help me stand out in the job market? Elite universities have reputations that other institutions can’t match. Once you get out of the top 50 institutions, universities need a different answer to this question. Maybe it is the opportunity to work with a professor on a consulting project.  Or, maybe it involves exposure to cutting-edge technology.  Or, maybe it is an internship that allows you to work and study in another country.  Make sure you know what these opportunities are, how they will further your career, and how likely it is you will be able to take advantage of them.

(5)  What does the school do to connect students to people in the profession? Almost all universities offer career services, but don’t expect them “to get you a job.”  Trade schools do this, universities don’t. What the school can do is help you understand professional norms, build your professional network and get you in front of potential employers.  Some schools have strong alumni networks that help students transition from college to employment.  Others incorporate professional development courses into the curriculum.  Still others provide internships or one-on-one mentoring programs.  The more connections you can make in college, the easier it will be to successfully transition to employment. Also make sure to ask what percent of students have a job in their chosen field within three months of graduation.

The answers to these questions, along with the ones you develop on your own, should give you a much better sense of whether a specific institution is right for you.  This is an exciting time in your life and the decision you make in the next few months will have a big impact on you for years to come.  Take the time to be proactive and make a good choice.