Governor, NU, state colleges to make pact to ensure affordability for Nebraskans

Gov. Dave Heineman announced on Jan. 7 that he has joined the University of Nebraska and Nebraska State College System in a proposed compact that would help ensure continued affordable access to higher education for Nebraska students and families.

Under the agreement, Gov. Heineman’s proposed two-year budget includes the funding necessary for the university and state colleges to freeze tuition for Nebraska students for two years. The governor is recommending that the University of Nebraska’s state appropriations increase from its current level of $498 million to $541 million in fiscal year 2015, and that the Nebraska State College System’s funding increase from $45.5 million to $49.6 million in fiscal year 2015.

If the Legislature agrees to the governor’s funding recommendations, the university and state colleges have agreed that they will freeze tuition for Nebraska students attending UNL, UNK, UNO, UNMC, Chadron State, Wayne State and Peru State for 2013-14 and 2014-15.

“I want to thank Governor Heineman for his commitment to investing in higher education in Nebraska,” University of Nebraska President James B. Milliken said. “State support is crucial to sustaining the priorities of a great University of Nebraska system – including affordable access to high-quality education. The investment recommended by the governor will put us in a strong position to continue to serve Nebraskans, and I am grateful for his leadership in recognizing the important role higher education plays in economic competitiveness. I look forward to discussing the affordability compact with members of the Legislature and others.”

In 2009, Nebraska reorganized its preschool through college (P-16) initiative to strengthen the education provided to Nebraska students. One of the goals of the P-16 Initiative is to provide affordable access for Nebraska students to attend Nebraska’s postsecondary institutions, according to a news release from the governor's office.

In an email to the NU community on Jan. 7 Milliken said the initiative is an important step in achieving the university's goal of affordable access to high quality education.

"Under our agreement, Governor Heineman’s budget recommendation will include a significant increase in state appropriations to the university and state colleges over the upcoming biennium. (The increase in state general funds for the university would be an average of 4.2 percent per year.) In return, if the Legislature approves the Governor’s funding recommendation, the Board of Regents will freeze tuition at current levels for Nebraska students for the next two years. All University of Nebraska resident students – undergraduate and graduate, on-campus and online – would see no increase in tuition for 2013-14 or 2014-15. Based on average tuition increases over the past decade, that would represent a savings of nearly $1,000 for a full-time undergraduate student for the next two years," Milliken said.

"As you know, state appropriations are critical to the success of public universities such as the University of Nebraska. We depend on a stable base of state support to help fund our operations — including investments in key priorities such as competitive salaries and benefits for our employees and strong academic programs — as well as to help ensure affordability by maintaining moderate tuition levels. But state appropriations to the university have been essentially flat for five straight years – understandable, given the economy and fiscal condition in the country and our state, but nonetheless not a sustainable model if we are to remain both competitive and affordable. That’s why our proposed compact is an important step at this time, representing a renewed commitment to state investment in the university. I am grateful to Governor Heineman for his support of public higher education and his recognition of the vital role it plays in Nebraska, and I look forward to discussing the proposed compact with policymakers and others when the Legislature convenes this week."

He concluded: "There has never been a more important time for the Governor and the Legislature to invest in higher education. In just a few short years, two-thirds of all jobs in Nebraska will require education beyond high school. If Nebraska is to be competitive, we must produce many more college graduates who are able to meet the needs of the 21st-century workforce. If passed, the compact will provide the first meaningful increase in general fund support for the university in a number of years and it will help ensure that a college education is in reach for Nebraskans."