As new graduates were receiving their diplomas Tuesday during UNLV’s winter commencement, the university got another major reason to celebrate.

It came with the news that UNLV had been designated as a Carnegie R1 research institution, becoming the first university in Nevada to join the elite class of colleges that have achieved the status.

The designation, reserved for doctoral universities with the highest levels of research activity, puts UNLV in a class of 120 of the nation’s top institutions, including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford and Notre Dame. Universities that were elevated to “very high” status along with UNLV this year included Auburn and Dartmouth. About 140 other universities have achieved “high” status, the level below R1.

“This is an incredible validation of all the hard work we were doing to get to this point,” UNLV President Marta Meana said. “It’s a real testament to the effort that has gone on at UNLV for decades.”

UNLV identified R1 as a major strategic goal and had been working toward achieving the status by 2025. The university had been supported in the effort by a community coalition in Southern Nevada, which had identified the status as a key objective for the region as well.

“UNLV achieving Carnegie R1 status is a big deal for the university and our community,” said Terry Shirey, the new chairman of the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce. “UNLV is now among schools such as Harvard, Princeton, and UCLA with R1 status that are driving innovation in their communities.”

Mary Beth Sewald, president and CEO of the Chamber, said achieving R1 status has been a top priority “because of the positive benefits it would bring to Southern Nevada and the entire state. R1 status will help drive economic development, particularly for high-tech companies that seek a top-level university research partner. This is great news for the business community and job creation.”

To be eligible for “very high” categorization, universities were required to have reached at least $5 million in total research expenditures and awarded at least 20 research/scholarship doctoral degrees.

In a tweet this morning, UNLV said it was “proud to announce that #UNLV is now one of the top research universities.”

“We could not have reached this major milestone of our Top Tier strategic plan without all the hard work, dedication and ongoing collaboration among our college deans, chairs, faculty, and staff,” said UNLV Provost and Executive Vice President Diane Chase. “It is a testament to the spirit of our UNLV faculty, staff and students whose creativity and innovation drive so much of our research.”

UNLV was among nine institutions that moved up to “very high” or “high” status. UNR, the state’s flagship institution, is not among R1 institutions, despite receiving higher per-student funding than UNLV.

“This change will scramble quite a few colleges’ peer groups — and the peer groups are important for things like faculty and staff compensation — and also who you’re comparing yourself to in terms of student outcomes,” Robert Kelchen of Seton Hall University’s Department of Education Leadership Management and Policy said in a story published by Inside Higher Education.

The Carnegie classification has been the leading framework for classifying the research activities of colleges and universities in the U.S. for more than 40 years. The first classification was published in 1973, nearly 20 years before UNLV awarded its first Ph.D. in English in 1991.

UNLV’s first Carnegie designation was earned in 1987, when it was classified as a Comprehensive I institution, recognizing its offering of graduate education through master’s degrees. Seven years later, UNLV was reclassified as a Comprehensive Master’s-granting University, with more than 40 master’s degrees, and earned a Doctoral/Research University-Intensive designation in 2000.

Since 2000, UNLV has greatly expanded its graduate degree programs campuswide, which includes a School of Dental Medicine and the Boyd School of Law, both firsts for Nevada, and a School of Public Health.

UNLV awarded 171 professional practice degrees — in law and dental medicine — last year, with those numbers expected to rise with the 2017 launch of the UNLV School of Medicine.

This university’s work is far from finished, Meana is stressing to faculty. This was on the first step of achievement in the university’s Top Tier initiative, a vision to become a top 100 research institution in research, education and community impact.

“It is great to be one of 120 institutions nationwide with classification, but by no means are we resting on our laurels,” Meana said. “There is still a lot of work to do. We continue engaging in research that impacts our community and region.”

The distinction could pave the way for more opportunities in research funding and recruiting qualified faculty. It could also help in recruiting students.

“It gives you credibility as an institution,” Meana said. “We don’t intend to stay at the current level. We intend to go higher and higher.”

To read the full article in the Las Vegas Sun by Sun Staff, please click here.