Nevada ranks 39th nationally for its high school graduation rate and dead last for the number of students who go directly to college after graduation, according to a report.
The report, issued last week by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, painted a less-than-rosy picture of the state's education system.
It also ranks Nevada 49th for both the number of college students who drop out in their freshman year and the number of college graduates who earn a bachelor's degree within six years or an associate's degree within three years.
"Nevada has one of the lowest graduation rates in 9th through 12th grades, and one of the lowest college-going rates in the country as well as one of the lowest college graduation rates," said Patrick Kelly of the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems.
The report was based on 2002 data generated by the company based in Boulder, Colo.
Nevada's high school graduation rate and the number of students who went directly to college worsened since a year ago, according to the report. No breakdowns by county were provided.
Nevada's high school graduation rate of 62 percent is below the national average of 68 percent.
Nevada is addressing its low graduation rate by stressing remedial programs designed to give students the skills they need to stay in school, said Keith Rheault, state superintendent of schools.
"We have always had a low graduation rate, but it's something we're working on in K-12," he told the Reno Gazette-Journal.
Steve Mulvenon, spokesman for the Washoe County School District, noted New Jersey and Massachusetts claimed top ratings in the four categories.
"They are among the two states with the highest per-pupil expenditures in the nation," he said. "If we believe the title of this report - `Big Investment, Big Returns' - then Nevada has a lot of work to do to adequately fund its K-12, and K-16 as well."
To improve graduation rates and the number of college-bound graduates, the report recommends developing strategies to improve students' basic skills and encouraging students to take advanced placement courses.
The report also calls for financial aid to help low-income students, involving parents and business leaders, and providing intensive basic course work in the first year of college.
Nevada education officials say many of the recommendations are in place in some counties.
Last year, Nevada's university system and the Washoe school district developed a step-by-step guide to college, outlining the courses students need beginning with sixth grade.
"A number of the recommendations in the report are being actively pursued," said Richard Curry, the state higher education system's vice chancellor for academic and student affairs.
"But there is always more you can do, and we are doing all we can to address those needs. It's a top priority on everyone's list," he said.