LAS VEGAS - Once upon a time, a high school diploma could unlock a middle-class income. That idea held true in Nevada for longer than it did throughout the United States, but it's true no longer, said a UNLV professor who studies the economy.
Citing figures that Las Vegas is the least-educated city in the region, Robert Lang, UNLV Director for Brookings Mountain West, said that Nevada needs higher education-attainment levels to attract businesses to this state.
Otherwise Nevada could have a difficult time diversifying its economy and rebounding from the recession.
The gaming industry that once supported middle-class incomes for a low-educated workforce can no longer do so.
"The engine that produced our relative affluence against low education attainment is actually going faulty at us," he said while speaking Friday at Nevada 2.0, an economic conference at UNLV.
According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, 21.8 percent of Nevadans have attained a bachelor's degree or higher.
That percentage, however, may not increase rapidly enough to prepare young people for a changed economy. Students in the Nevada System of Higher Education are more likely not to graduate than to graduate; graduation rates are at 41.6 percent.
"The thing that is really holding us back at this moment is the human capital training in the workforce," Lang said.
Attendees at the UNLV conference today will hear from business and government leaders from Salt Lake City, Phoenix, Dallas and Denver will address their state's successful economic programs. The talks are designed to jump-start a conversation regarding how to diversify the economy beyond the gaming, construction and mining industries.
State leaders have stressed this need in the past, but the state's nation-leading unemployment and foreclosure rates lends the call some urgency this time.
Assembly Speaker-elect John Oceguera was among the speakers to open the conference. He said that Nevada has never had to focus in a "laser-like" fashion on these problems, but now has to do just that.
"My hope is that we'll take this opportunity to lay a foundation for our future," he said.