President’s Op-Ed: NU budget prioritizes affordability for students and families

June 19, 2015

By Hank Bounds
President, University of Nebraska

The first priority of the University of Nebraska is to make sure students and families in our state have access to affordable, quality higher education.

Our goal has never been more important. While we can’t predict what the jobs of the future will be, we do know virtually all of them will require education beyond high school. That means if we are to successfully grow Nebraska’s economy, we need to expand access to our universities and colleges to many more students.

The University of Nebraska budget approved recently by the Board of Regents achieves our goals for both affordability and quality, thanks in large part to the investment from the state provided by Gov. Pete Ricketts, Sen. Heath Mello and his colleagues on the Appropriations Committee, and members of the Legislature. I’m grateful for their support, which continues a tradition of partnership between the university and state based on shared goals for education and economic growth.

Most important, our budget ensures the University of Nebraska will remain affordable. Our plan includes two years of tuition rates – a 1.75 percent tuition increase for 2015-16 and a 2.5 percent increase for 2016-17 – in order to help students and families better plan for the costs of college. The increases are the lowest in nearly three decades following a two-year tuition freeze for Nebraskans.

As a parent myself, I know any increase in tuition has an impact on students. We take these decisions seriously. The increases for the next two years amount to about $3.50 more per credit hour for Nebraska undergraduates in 2015-16 and an additional $5 per credit hour for 2016-17. These moderate increases will maintain our affordability while creating revenue to invest in priorities like competitive salaries, financial aid and quality academic programs – all things our students expect us to provide.

Even with the tuition increases, a University of Nebraska education is a tremendous value. Resident tuition and fees on our campuses are at least 25 percent below the peer averages. And, most students do not pay the “sticker price;” well over half of our undergraduates receive aid that they do not have to pay back. We will increase our investments in need-based financial aid the next two years at the same rates as tuition so net tuition costs for students with the greatest need do not go up.

Our budget also includes strategic investments in university faculty and staff and programs to strengthen Nebraska’s economy. Targeted economic development investments supported by the Governor and Legislature will expand educational opportunities for students, meet workforce needs and create jobs. The state’s investments in these initiatives – the Health Science Education Complex at UNK, a biomedical technology institute led by UNMC and UNO, a new global trade and finance institute at UNL named in honor of alumnus and former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Clayton Yeutter, and a new simulated learning center at UNMC – will yield long-term returns. Additionally, the state’s support for the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture will allow us to make important investments in talent and build on the college’s momentum.

Finally, our budget plan will require us to be cost-effective and make cuts – an estimated $8 million over the next two years. Cuts are never easy, but like any Nebraska family or business, we have a responsibility to manage our resources effectively. We will continue to look for ways to operate more efficiently.

The university’s budget plan puts students and families first, ensuring that we will continue to provide an excellent education at a competitive cost. I thank the Governor, members of the Legislature, our faculty and staff, students and friends of the university for helping us maintain our momentum in serving Nebraskans.

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