LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — The University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) 2020-21 State of the University Address celebrates accomplishments from the past year and sets the path for the year ahead.

UNLV President Keith E. Whitfield delivered his first address today, Thursday, Jan. 28 at 2 p.m.

Dr. Whitfield is UNLV’s 11th president and first Black president in the university’s 64-year history. Dr. Whitfield says he is often reminded of this historic choice and it is proof things can change. He opened his address thanking former president Marta Meana for her support and hard work.

Dr. Whitfield says he has been in higher education for more than three decades and can’t recall a more challenging time than the difficulties 2020 presented, and while he says he has never shied away from a challenge, nor has the university.

“We’ve persevered and risen to the occasion,” regarding staff working from home, on campus or teaching remotely.


Dr. Whitfield says public urban universities like UNLV has the ability to weather the “2026 cliff” of declining enrollments better than education counterparts.

The reason Dr. Whitfield gives for the university’s survival is UNLV being in a major metropolitan area and having more opportunities to develop partnerships, becoming integrated in economic and community issues.


Dr. Whitfield proudly shared that UNLV was ranked by College Net in the top 10% for social mobility for graduates and attained the highest status as a Research University, classified by Carnegie.

Regarding help mitigating the COVID-19 pandemic, UNLV Schools of Medicine opened one of the first testing locations during the early days of the pandemic.

“UNLV provides an opportunity for students to change their lives and the lives of their families,” said Dr. Whitfield on UNLV staying focused on helping the community and its students navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.


Dr. Whitfield wants to see the current 6-year graduation rate increase to 60% by 2030 and says the university will launch a student success initiative to meet this goal.

The university will build a stronger structure to support their Academic Health Center development, not as a physical center, but a strategy to meet long-term UNLV visions.

UNLV will continue to foster community partnerships, including expanding their relationship with the Clark County School District and CSN so first-time freshmen, transfer students have stronger skills when they enter the university to continue their education.


The UNLV President says he will continue to address inherit structural racism in 2021.

Dr. Whitfield says that while this racism may often be unintentional, the university will address the challenge openly to reach the next level for their diverse undergraduate student body.


  • Economic development will become an independent core goal to stimulate efforts for all people.
  • Promote and support a culture of equity and inclusion to further define expectations to create actionable items.
  • UNLV will continue to develop infrastructure while ensuring shared governance “remains at the heart of all we do,” deepening the culture of philanthropy and alumni connection


UNLV President highlighted three examples of UNLV’s culture of philanthropy:

  • $9M gift to develop first-of-its-kind program in tribal gaming law
  • $6M commitment to advance brain health
  • $5M gift from Panda Express co-founders for casual restaurant management programs


  • Economic Development position elevated to Vice President
  • Position of Chief Diversity Officer reports directly to President Whitfield
  • Moving forward with creating a Vice President for Health Affairs


“We have been fortunate though that our enrollment has held fairly steady during this pandemic and we must be prepared to capitalize on and be a part of the economic recovery,” said Dr. Whitfield, UNLV President.

Whitfield says UNLV’s focus for the upcoming Nevada State Legislature session will be on economic development and how the university can support the state and partnerships with CCSD in K-12 education.

Dr. Whitfield expressed his appreciation to Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak for including the Medical Education and College of Engineering Building projects in his proposed next biennium.

During Governor Steve Sisolak’s 2021 State of the State address on Jan. 19, he proposed a $25 million expenditure to help complete the UNLV Medical School Building, a school which could generate as many as 16,000 jobs over the next ten years and help the State overcome the doctor shortage.

Gov. Sisolak will tour the new site with school representatives, students, and donors on Jan. 29.


“Our university, our community, our society has changed. We need to be thoughtful and to evaluate, adjust and evolve,” said UNLV President stating the university listened, learned, wants to represent “all” students.

“We can make great even better, but it takes all of us to get there,” said Dr. Whitfield, UNLV President wrapping up his inaugural State of the University Address.