Gov. Pillen, University of Nebraska introduce new scholarship for top ACT scorers

LINCOLN – As part of a comprehensive plan to reverse Nebraska’s brain drain and compete more effectively for top talent, Gov. Jim Pillen today joined University of Nebraska System interim President Chris Kabourek and representatives from the Board of Regents in announcing a new scholarship for the state’s top ACT scorers. The program will cover the total cost of undergraduate attendance, plus stipends, at any NU campus.

Beginning in the 2024-25 academic year, the Office of the President will fund a new Nebraska Presidential Scholars Program that will cover tuition, fees, books, housing and all other costs of attendance, plus a $5,000 annual stipend, for any Nebraska student who scores a perfect 36 on the ACT. The announcement from the governor and university was widely praised by agricultural, philanthropic, business and elected leaders who endorsed the vision to compete for Nebraska’s homegrown talent to meet the future needs of the state.

“This is a simple, but powerful, message to our best and brightest young people: We want you on Team Nebraska,” Pillen said. “As I travel around the state and talk to business and community leaders, something I hear again and again is that we need to do a better job of competing for talent. With the Presidential Scholars Program, we’re going to compete. I’m proud to join with President Kabourek and the Board of Regents in putting this bold plan forward.”

Kabourek said: “Governor Pillen has challenged all of us to step up and work together to solve Nebraska’s brain drain. The University of Nebraska needs to play a leading role and the Presidential Scholars Program is part of our answer to the governor’s call. I’m embarrassed that so many of Nebraska’s best and brightest are leaving our state because they are enticed by more competitive offers. This new scholarship sends a strong message that we want these kids to stay in Nebraska and we are going to go compete for them.”

Kabourek said NU is immediately launching a fundraising effort as part of its ongoing Only in Nebraska campaign to raise private funds to create a permanent Presidential Scholars endowment that will extend the program beyond those who achieve a 36 ACT. Ultimately, the university’s goal is to provide total cost of attendance scholarships to all Nebraska students who score a 33 or above.

“My message to every Nebraska student and every parent is that if you’re willing to work hard, the University of Nebraska will do everything we can to help you become the best version of yourself and get a great education that will prepare you for success,” Kabourek said.

On average over the past three years, about 600 Nebraska students a year score at least a 33, including about 30 who score a perfect 36. But less than half of those students enroll at the University of Nebraska, including only 22% of students with a 36. Meanwhile, Nebraska faces a persistent brain drain, at a time when the state urgently needs more workforce to fill current and future jobs.

The university’s goal is to enroll 80% of students who score a 33 or higher, Kabourek shared. Furthermore, he said that elite academic performers who choose the University of Nebraska should be celebrated the way student-athletes are, with signing ceremonies and public attention to signal Nebraska’s pride in retaining them in the state.

“When we say we want the University of Nebraska to compete, this is exactly what we mean. I am thrilled that we are taking bold action to keep more of Nebraska’s best and brightest here in our state,” said Board of Regents Chairman Tim Clare of Lincoln. “This is a win for our university, for students, our workforce and Nebraska’s national profile.”

Vice Chairman of the Board Rob Schafer of Beatrice added: “The Presidential Scholars Program is exactly the right move, at exactly the right time, to address the workforce challenges facing our state. I thank Governor Pillen for his leadership in rallying all of us around this urgent issue, and I congratulate President Kabourek for his decisive action in sending a clear message to Nebraska’s talented young people that we want them to stay.”

The university is maintaining its prestigious Regents Scholarship, which covers full tuition costs for high academic performers, as well as its investment in need-based financial aid through the Nebraska Promise program, which provides free tuition for Nebraska students whose families earn $65,000 or less per year.

Kabourek, along with members of the Board of Regents, will join Pillen on a road show this spring to visit Nebraska high schools and community events to promote the Presidential Scholars Program and other opportunities at the university, encouraging students to stay in the state to earn their degrees and start their careers.

“Together as ‘One Nebraska,’ we’re doing big things to create opportunities for the next generation – a new engineering facility in Lincoln to produce the future STEM workforce, a new health complex in Kearney to meet the health care needs of our rural communities, and a world-class medical center, just to name a few,” Pillen said. “The university is at its strongest when it’s focused on priorities that matter to Nebraskans.”

In traveling the state, the governor and university leaders will also engage with business and community leaders about expanding internship and job opportunities for students, through initiatives like Intern Nebraska and others.

What Others Are Saying:

“The vision that President Kabourek and Governor Pillen have laid out for keeping students in Nebraska is an investment in workforce development. We need as many talented, hard-working students as possible to get their degree, start their careers and put roots down here in central and western Nebraska. Every step we can take to get more students to attend the University of Nebraska and grow our workforce is a win. UNK is excited to support this effort.” – UNK Chancellor Doug Kristensen

“In today’s workforce-short environment, every state is competing to attract, train and retain the next generation workforce that will shape our economic future. Nebraska must be continually taking the steps to compete and win in this regard. We accordingly are proud to support efforts at the University of Nebraska to continue to make our campuses a destination of choice and a difference maker in growing the ‘Good Life’ for generations to come.” – Bryan Slone, president, Nebraska Chamber of Commerce

“For Nebraska agriculture to continue to be successful in today’s technology-based world, we’ll need a well-educated workforce with the skills necessary to innovate for the future. That means keeping more Nebraska talent here in the state and creating more opportunities for them to get a college degree. The Presidential Scholars Program is big win for the most important industry in our state, as it will encourage the best and brightest of Nebraska’s youth to use their talents to advance Nebraska agriculture to be the best in the nation.” – Mark McHargue, president, Nebraska Farm Bureau