President Ted Carter announces two-year University of Nebraska tuition freeze

LINCOLN – University of Nebraska President Ted Carter announced today that tuition rates across the NU system will be frozen in the 2021-22 and 2022-23 school years, another step to ensure affordability and predictability for students and families as they plan for the future.

The two-year tuition freeze in the next biennium – the first back-to-back, across-the-board freeze in recent history at the University of Nebraska – applies to undergraduate, graduate and professional students; resident and nonresident students; and those attending in-person and online.

Walter "Ted" Carter
Walter “Ted” Carter

With the freeze, all NU campuses will remain among the best values in their peer groups – a critical commitment to Nebraskans at a time when higher education is increasingly linked to individual growth and economic prosperity, according to Carter.

“Now, more than ever, the affordability, accessibility and excellence of a University of Nebraska education must be our North Star,” Carter said. “We know this is an uncertain time, and we want to do everything we can to take care of the people of Nebraska and give them a sense of predictability about what’s ahead.

“This two-year tuition freeze represents our commitment to current and future students of the University of Nebraska. Now they know exactly what they will pay in tuition to attend our campuses. And, it’s a promise to our state. Job growth will return. When it does, we’ll have a strong pipeline of skilled workers ready to lead Nebraska into the future.”

Carter will hold the line on the 2.75 percent tuition increase for 2020-21 that was approved by the Board of Regents last year. While the university system faces significant budget challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, all campuses and Central Administration will tighten their belts rather than seek further increases from students and families, Carter said. Steps already underway include a system-wide hiring freeze, limits on spending and a review of all construction projects. Carter will provide a detailed review of the university system’s budget planning at the June 26 Board of Regents meeting.

With Carter’s announcements, most Nebraska undergraduates will pay the following per credit hour for the next three academic years:

  • University of Nebraska-Lincoln: $259
  • University of Nebraska at Omaha: $235
  • University of Nebraska at Kearney: $209
  • Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture: $139

Differential tuition rates charged by some academic colleges also will be frozen for 2021-22 and 2022-23. Tuition rates at the University of Nebraska Medical Center vary by college; those will be frozen as well.

Jim Pillen
Jim Pillen

Board of Regents Chairman Jim Pillen of Columbus applauded Carter’s focus on affordability and accessibility.

“As President Carter says, this is a transformative period for higher education. We have an opportunity now to decide what kind of university we want to be for the future,” Pillen said. “I’m so proud of our university for putting access at the top of the list. What a special message of hope for young people in Nebraska and beyond.”

Today’s news is the latest in a series of steps taken by Carter and university leadership to provide as much clarity as possible for students and families facing uncertainty amid the pandemic. One recent national survey, for example, found that 1 in 6 graduating high school seniors was considering taking a “gap year” instead of starting college in the fall.

Carter stressed that the current crisis has not changed the value of higher education, in terms of both individual and economic growth. The on-campus experience is particularly valuable in preparing the next generation of well-rounded, highly skilled leaders.

To that end, Carter has announced that the University of Nebraska’s four campuses will be open in the fall for in-person learning. While adjustments will be necessary to ensure safety, the decision provides clarity for current and future students.

Carter also previously launched the Nebraska Promise, an expansion of the NU system’s existing need-based financial aid program that will cover full tuition costs for Nebraska students with family incomes of $60,000 or less. The Nebraska Promise is expected to cover an additional 1,000 current and future students.

“These are challenging times, but as I have quickly come to learn, Nebraskans are problem-solvers, not problem-gazers,” Carter said. “We have an opportunity now to lean in to our priorities – the first of which is affordable excellence for the people of Nebraska – so that we emerge even stronger, even more relevant, and even more ready to meet the needs of our state and the world.”

Tuition Freeze Questions & Answers

Does the tuition freeze apply to ALL University of Nebraska students, across the board?
Yes. Tuition will be frozen for 2021-22 and 2022-23 for ALL students – undergraduate, graduate and professional; resident and nonresident; in-person and online.

Does the freeze apply to fees and room & board, or just tuition?
The freeze applies to tuition only.

Why are you waiting until 2021 to freeze tuition? Why not freeze it for the upcoming year, like some other schools have done?
The 2020-21 tuition rates have been approved by the Board of Regents already, part of the previous administration’s two-year budget plan that allowed students and families to plan for two years’ worth of tuition. Candidly, knowing the fiscal challenges we are facing, we could have gone back to the Board to seek an additional increase beyond the 2.75% that has already been approved. But President Carter has decided to hold the line. Rather than ask students and families to pay more than what they were planning for, we will tighten our belts across the campuses and Central Administration.

How will you pay for a tuition freeze? Aren’t you already facing a $50 million shortfall?
We can’t afford NOT to freeze tuition. Tuition is one of two primary sources of revenue for University operations. Fewer students means less revenue. Unprecedented challenges require unprecedented solutions. The tuition freeze – like the Nebraska Promise – is one way to drive student interest and enrollment, thus mitigating the impact on our budget. Without bold steps like these that signal our commitment to access and affordability, enrollment declines would be worse – and so would our budget shortfall.

Your tuition is already low. Instead of freezing tuition, why not invest in faculty salaries at UNL and UNMC, who lag behind their peers?
President Carter and the Board agree faculty salaries are not where they need to be in order for us to be competitive. While President Carter’s strategic planning process is temporarily on hold, addressing faculty salaries is absolutely part of his long-term vision. Our future ability to invest in faculty salaries depends on the financial health of the institution. And right now, our financial health depends in large part on continuing to enroll students. That’s our focus. By doing everything we can to drive enrollment – including sending strong, consistent messages to Nebraskans about our commitment to affordability – we can maintain our fiscal strength, thus positioning ourselves to make longer-term investments in our incredible faculty.

Are you going to ask the State for more money to pay for the tuition freeze?
No. We are still in the process of developing our biennial budget request to the State, but we recognize the State is facing financial challenges of its own related to COVID-19. Thus, we will not ask for state funding increases beyond ordinary operating needs. We will not ask for additional funding to “cover” the tuition freeze, nor the Nebraska Promise.

Isn’t the tuition freeze just going to create a “cliff” effect? i.e., in 2023, won’t you just raise tuition by a large amount to make up for two years of freezes?
No. We will continue to make sure our budget is structurally balanced, including by tightening our belts now. There will be no cliff effect.

How are you coming on solving the $50 million shortfall you announced earlier? Do you have a list of cuts?
As we’ve shared, all campuses and Central Administration have taken immediate steps to manage our budget challenges, including a system-wide hiring freeze, limits on travel and major purchases, and a review of all capital projects. We are also holding back 3% of spending in the final quarter of this fiscal year to free up cash in the short term. All campuses and UNCA are continuing to plan prudently as we look ahead. President Carter will provide further details at the Board’s June meeting.

What can faculty and staff do now to help?
Right now, every single employee at the University of Nebraska is an enrollment officer. Every student matters. Whether keeping our campuses and buildings beautiful, serving our residence hall occupants, teaching our classes or any other of the myriad job duties at the University, right now, all 14,000 employees have an opportunity to drive enrollment. That means making personal touches with every student or prospective student you know, making every interaction with a student meaningful, and doing all we can to make the University of Nebraska a place where students want to be. The more students we have, the stronger we are as a University.