Nebraskans have achieved a great deal despite extraordinary challenges over the past few years. Looking around the country, I have no doubt our state is in a stronger position than most as we move past the pandemic.
I’m proud to say the University of Nebraska System is part of that success story. When COVID-19 hit, we acted decisively for the benefit of the state. We created the Nebraska Promise, providing tuition-free education to qualifying Nebraskans. We launched a plan to partner with state leaders to fix our aging buildings while saving taxpayer dollars.
And, we took a hard look at our budget to stay ahead of the financial challenges created by COVID-19. Since 2020, we have cut $50 million in spending, and as recently approved by the Board of Regents, taken the rare step of freezing tuition for every University of Nebraska student for two straight years. The tuition freeze takes on extra significance at a time when Nebraskans are facing 40-year high inflation at the grocery store and gas pump.
While we have accomplished many things together, we also know there are opportunities to create even greater impact for Nebraska students, families and communities.
Our state has an urgent need for more nurses and doctors, teachers, engineers and entrepreneurs. We continue to lose too many of our best and brightest, and too many Nebraskans have not completed postsecondary credentials that would help them advance in the workforce. There is high demand for innovations in areas like agriculture, medicine and national defense that will keep Nebraskans safe and healthy.
At the university, these are issues we think about every day. That’s why, only two years after releasing our action plan for the University of Nebraska System, we have added ambitious new goals to directly serve students and our state.
Each includes measurable targets built around our core mission of providing quality education at an affordable price for the future workforce of Nebraska. For example:
- With the economy at the top of Nebraskans’ minds, we will continue to find efficiencies in our budget. After adjusting for inflation, university spending from tuition and taxpayer dollars is the same today as what it was a decade ago. But this is a time of economic uncertainty. The best way to insulate ourselves is to look inward, be conservative in our planning, and identify additional cost savings, growth opportunities and partnerships with the private sector.
- We will find more ways to reduce costs for students, starting with improving our four-year graduation rates to limit their debt and get them into the workforce more quickly. We will work closely with private donors to create more scholarships, and will be innovative in mitigating costs beyond tuition. We are closing in on our goal of saving students $10 million by replacing traditional textbooks with free or low-cost digital course materials.
- We will make certain every student has a paid internship, study abroad or other experiential learning opportunity. My time at the U.S. Naval Academy showed me that nothing can point a student toward a career or field of study like a real-life experience. The same is true at the University of Nebraska. No student should graduate without having had an opportunity for hands-on, real-time learning. Our workforce depends on it.
- We will attract and retain more talent to Nebraska by putting people first. The new 988 suicide prevention lifeline is a valuable resource for Nebraskans and I thank Governor Ricketts for promoting it. Across our campuses, too, students, faculty and staff have identified expanded mental health services as a crucial priority, and we will direct resources accordingly.
Nebraskans have shown that even when there are challenges, we are not afraid to think differently about how to succeed. We have a chance to do even more to set ourselves apart from the field – and, working together, make Nebraska the place where every person wants to live, work and learn.
President, University of Nebraska System