LINCOLN – Joined by supporters from across the state, University of Nebraska System President Ted Carter on Friday asked state senators to fully fund a “modest and prudent” two-year budget request that would help the university continue to deliver affordable excellence in the face of fiscal challenges.
Like many institutions around the country, the University of Nebraska’s operations are being pressured by 40-year-high inflation, wage growth and declining birthrates that will shrink the pool of prospective students – a combination that Carter, a retired vice admiral in the U.S. Navy, described as “headwinds” in testimony to the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee.
Continued stable funding from the state is crucial to the university’s ability to manage the challenges while still meeting Nebraska’s urgent workforce and quality of life needs, Carter said.
“No entity in the state can deliver a skilled workforce like the University of Nebraska. No entity delivers research on the scale and depth of the University of Nebraska,” he told senators.
“We are prepared to think differently about how to continue to deliver those kinds of results for Nebraskans. We are fortunate to benefit from your partnership as we chart the path forward.”
Request would help cover core expenses
As approved by the Board of Regents, the NU System’s budget request included 3% increases in state funding for 2023-24 and 2024-25. Those dollars would help cover core expenses like daily operations, health insurance and salary increases, while allowing the university to keep tuition affordable for students and families.
Gov. Jim Pillen’s recommended state budget includes 2% annual funding increases for the university. Carter thanked Pillen for putting forward a budget that recognizes the value of the university, noting that the governor’s budget also includes funding for the UNK-UNMC Rural Health Education Building and the Nebraska Career Scholarships, which provide aid for Nebraska college students in high-demand fields like math, engineering, IT and health care.
After its hearings conclude, the Appropriations Committee will release its own budget package, which will then be debated by the full Legislature before being sent to the governor for final consideration.
Joining Carter in testimony Friday were Board of Regents Chairman Tim Clare of Lincoln, the student body presidents of the University of Nebraska at Kearney and University of Nebraska Medical Center, Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Bryan Slone and Nebraska Farm Bureau Federation President Mark McHargue.
All four student governments and faculty senates of the University of Nebraska System also submitted resolutions asking the committee to fully fund NU’s request, and dozens of Nebraskans wrote to senators in support of the university.
‘Discipline’ in maximizing state dollars
Clare noted that the request aligns with the NU System’s commitment to fiscal conservatism. Even if the request is fully funded, the university will still need to make cuts to balance its budget – work that university leaders say they are willing to take on in order to be good partners to state leaders who are balancing numerous priorities.
“We are going to have to roll up our sleeves and do some hard work internally, but I have complete faith in our leadership to invest our resources where they will create the greatest impact for students, our workforce and the state,” Clare said. “Our request sends a strong message that we will be responsible and disciplined in putting state dollars to good work.”
Carter pledged a “nimble and adaptable” approach to fiscal management across the university system to maximize the state’s investment. Already, NU generates $9 in economic activity for every $1 in state funding.
“Our guiding principle will be to direct our resources where they will create the most impact – accessible and high-quality education, world-class research and workforce development,” he said. “There is a reason we are willing to face the headwinds and have the tough conversations: The University of Nebraska is as important to the growth, competitiveness and quality of life of our state as it has ever been in our 154-year history.”
State support crucial to affordability
Student leaders told senators that their investments help the University of Nebraska maintain its position as one of the most affordable institutions in its peer group.
“The University of Nebraska provides opportunities for students like me to rise and achieve all that we are capable of,” said Nicole Kent, UNMC’s student body president and a third-year student in the College of Medicine.
“I hope to practice family medicine in rural Nebraska upon completing my training, and I know that the vitality of my community is dependent not just on me, but also on well-trained teachers, business leaders, other health care professionals, agriculturalists and more,” said Kent, a native of Benkelman and UNK graduate. “The University of Nebraska is the entity that can train young Nebraskans for the future, but it takes support from lawmakers to maintain high-quality, affordable education.”
UNK Student Body President Emily Saadi, a native of Kearney, said financial considerations are a key factor in prospective students’ decision-making process.
“As a student raised right here in the state, the affordability of the NU System was one of the biggest draws compared to other schools,” said Saadi, a pre-law student majoring in political science. “At a time when our state seeks to grow our economy, increase our competitiveness and ensure our college-educated students remain in Nebraska, it is more crucial than ever to prioritize higher education.”
Strong support from Nebraska business, agriculture
Slone, of the Nebraska Chamber, said adequate funding for the university will advance state leaders’ shared goals for postsecondary enrollment growth and workforce development.
“The Chamber recognizes that the University of Nebraska System plays a crucial role in developing the state’s workforce and attracting talent to our state,” Slone said. “I believe President Carter and his leadership team, along with the Board of Regents, are thinking differently and seeking to drive more impact and performance in the work the university performs every single day.”
McHargue, of the Farm Bureau, told the committee that the university’s agricultural education and research programs are vital to the growth and success of Nebraska agriculture.
That continued success will require the expertise of highly skilled workers with four-year degrees in life sciences, engineering, data science and other areas, McHargue said.
“We know the University of Nebraska respects and values agriculture as the state’s No. 1 industry, which, along with our natural resources, powers our economy,” he said. “Maintaining a strong and future-focused university system is crucial because of the work it does for Nebraska agriculture.”