CHANCELLOR COLUMN: UNK mission is helping first-generation students succeed

Chancellor Doug Kristensen
Chancellor Doug Kristensen

Higher education is transformational, and affordable access is critical.

While this is true for everyone, it is especially true for Nebraska’s many Pell-eligible/low income students and first-generation students (students who are the first in their families to attend college).

The University of Nebraska at Kearney is proud to provide affordable access to high quality educational experiences. It is an effort driven by an entire team – the University of Nebraska Board of Regents and administration, Nebraska Legislature and taxpayers, generous donors, and talented and committed university faculty and staff.

Of UNK’s currently enrolled undergraduate students, nearly 45 percent are first-generation, and one-third are Pell-eligible.

Of UNK’s currently enrolled undergraduate students, nearly 45 percent are first-generation, and one-third are Pell-eligible. Investment in their education changes their lives, their families, the communities to which they return, and benefits the entire state in terms of future productivity – in astonishing ways.

I can think of no greater return on investment to the taxpayers of Nebraska, which I was pleased to report to the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee in September.

Along with the vital assistance of Nebraska taxpayers and legislative appropriations, we rely on the generosity of donors. Among them is the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation. The Thompson Scholars initiative provides scholarships, programming, and a learning community environment that make a university education attainable for determined students, many of whom face three or more risk factors to success.

In fall 2017, the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation supported 438 UNK Thompson Scholars. Data indicates that retention and graduation rates for these students are substantively higher than rates for our overall undergraduate student population, with nearly eight of 10 of these students graduating within six years. At UNK, our story is “We Are Difference Makers.” The Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation is certainly making a difference in the lives of many students who might otherwise not attend the university.

Another success story is UNK’s Kearney Bound Scholars.

Beginning in 2006, UNK worked with school principals, counselors and educators to select 30 high school freshmen students each year in North Platte, Lexington and Kearney. While in high school, these students complete all requirements for full admission to UNK while completing special preparations and programming. Pell-eligible and mostly first generation, they earn free tuition, room and board, and fees.

The Kearney Bound students’ first-year retention continues to average around 90 percent, and a six-year graduation rate of about 70 percent. Since its inception, 86 Kearney Bound Scholars have graduated, many returning to their Nebraska communities.

Few things compare to seeing and hearing how first-generation students are succeeding and preparing themselves to be future leaders.

Few things compare to seeing and hearing how first-generation students are succeeding and preparing themselves to be future leaders.

For example, Jose Francisco-Andres from Lexington is a third-year student, a resident assistant, and a Thompson Scholars mentor. He is majoring in modern languages and psychology. Without the Thompson Scholars scholarship, it is likely he would not have attended college.

Similarly, sisters Madison and Kelsey Sloup from Seward are actively involved on campus. Like Jose, they mentor other students (for them it is in our First Year Program) and they are in the Mortar Board academic honorary. Madison plans to graduate with a degree in communication disorders; Kelsey with a degree in business administration.

These talented and hard-working students are few of many at the University of Nebraska, and they are our future. At UNK, we are proud of all our students and grateful for the investment that Nebraskans are making in the future of our great state. The value of that investment, to watch students grow to become more than they thought they could be, cannot be overstated.

We look forward to continued collaborations to ensure that Nebraska’s schools and services, business and agriculture, technology and industry, healthcare and wellness, continue to make the University of Nebraska the best place to go to college.

– Douglas Kristensen is Chancellor of the University of Nebraska at Kearney

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.