CHANCELLOR’S COLUMN: UNK momentum continues during fiscal challenges

Chancellor Doug Kristensen
Chancellor Doug Kristensen

UNK Chancellor

The University of Nebraska at Kearney is entering a season of accelerated and transformational change. While the community and visitors will notice a flurry of construction activity, some may wonder how UNK is able to invest in construction projects while making reductions required to address a $3.4 million budget gap. The answer requires an understanding of state budgets and the use of “restricted” funds.

One example of restricted funds are dollars the Nebraska Legislature allocates to UNK for constructing specific facilities. The university is restricted to using these dollars to pay facility design and construction costs associated with a specific facility. UNK cannot use those dollars to pay for faculty/staff salaries and benefits or to fund programs, operations, services or utility costs.

We are grateful to the Legislature for appropriating funds in 2016 to support construction of a science, technology, engineering, mathematics building to replace the now obsolete 1955 Otto Olsen building.

We broke ground on the STEM building Wednesday, and the impact will be transformational — impacting generations of students to come while producing graduates in high-demand fields across Nebraska, the region and nation.

In addition to housing conventional physical science, mathematics and statistics, physics and astronomy and engineering, it will also be home to College of Business and Technology programs including cyber systems, construction management, industrial distribution, aviation systems management, and interior and product design.

UNK also generates income from student housing contracts, however, these dollars are restricted to paying bond debt and maintenance-related expenses on residential facilities. The university has utilized some of this income to construct Village Flats at University Village – a 130-bed apartment-style residence open to upperclassmen, non-traditional students, employees and residents. Similarly, student-generated dollars are being utilized to continue the renovation of the Nebraskan Student Union – renovations that include far more than aesthetic enhancements, but rather address critical infrastructure, design deficiencies and deferred maintenance issues.

UNK also generates income from activities and services, such as child care, and these dollars are restricted to funding campus projects. Later this summer the university will break ground on a new Early Childhood Education Center, a center of excellence for early childhood education, the preparation of early childhood educators, and a critical investment in Nebraska’s future.

Other restricted monies for maintenance and infrastructure will replace an aged and defective sewer line spanning from the Student Union to A.O. Thomas Hall. The Cope Fountain is on this line and will be renovated and upgraded. Visitors to campus will see construction on this starting in June.

Finally, generous donors have entrusted UNK with private gifts that have changed the landscape of campus, the lives of students, and achieved a number of philanthropic goals to benefit Nebraskans. Over 99 percent of these funds are restricted to donors’ specified intentions – a significant portion for scholarships – and may not be expended for other purposes. Other recent gifts have supported construction of the Health Science Education Complex, an endowed academic chair in Early Childhood Education, facilities and programmatic support, and installation of new turf at Foster Field, to name only a few examples.

UNK is committed to expanding access and support for high-quality education while increasing the university’s positive impact in Kearney and across the state. A study in “Research in Education” ranked UNK in the top 20 public master’s institutions across the country in short-term and long-term cost-efficiency in a review of education spending data.

UNK is humbled by the generosity of all our donors and appreciative of every donation received. These donors and emerging private partners at University Village are joining with the university and the state to invest in the future of our community, state, and generations of Nebraskans to come.

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