Nebraska educational access initiative to be highlighted at National Summit
University of Nebraska President James B. Milliken and Omaha businessman and philanthropist Richard (Dick) Holland, chairman of the Building Bright Futures Board of Directors, have been invited by U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings to appear on a "promising efforts" panel at the National Summit on Higher Education to be held July 17-18, 2008, in Chicago. Milliken and Holland will showcase Omaha's Building Bright Futures initiative before a national audience of more than 150 business and community leaders and higher education officials.

The summit, "A Test of Leadership: Committing to Advance Postsecondary Education for All Americans," is intended to promote a dialogue regarding best practices in higher education accessibility, affordability, and accountability. These three themes form the foundation of Secretary Spellings' Action Plan for Higher Education, based on the recommendations of her Commission on the Future of Higher Education. The Commission was formed in September 2005 to develop a comprehensive strategy for postsecondary education that would better serve Americans and address the nation's economic and workforce needs in the 21st century.

Milliken's presentation focuses on accessibility and efforts to address three "barriers to educational access" identified in the Spellings Report: inadequate preparation for post-secondary education, inadequate information about college opportunities and persistent financial barriers. "While the higher education community must assume a leadership role," Milliken says, "success in overcoming these barriers will come only with the active participation and investment of government and the private sector." Nebraska programs designed to address access include the university's tuition assistance program, which offers free tuition to any admitted student who is a Nebraska resident and who meets certain financial guidelines; the Kearney Bound! Program in Lexington and North Platte and the College Prep Academy in Grand Island, both of which encourage first-generation students to attend college; the Nebraska P-16 Initiative that promotes college-going; and the EducationQuest Foundation's college access grants that seek to increase college-going rates.

Milliken will also discuss the Building Bright Futures initiative, which he calls "a thoughtful, carefully researched, comprehensive, broad-based community effort that has the critically important support of the private sector. It seeks to get at the very root of the problem of educational access, starting in early childhood." Holland's comments center on the importance of early childhood care and education as a strategy for preparing youth to succeed in school, work and life. "Higher education begins with successful early childhood education," Holland says. He cites the Educare Schools movement, supported by the Buffett Early Childhood Foundation, and comprehensive child care programs in Britain and Sweden as exemplars.

The goals of Building Bright Futures are to improve academic achievement, increase the number of students who graduate from high school prepared for work or postsecondary education, provide postsecondary educational opportunities to every economically disadvantaged high school graduates in Douglas and Sarpy County, and increase civic participation and community responsibility.

The Building Bright Futures initiative first came to the attention of the Department of Education when President Milliken invited Under Secretary Sara Martinez Tucker to Nebraska in April. Tucker had an opportunity to meet with BBF founders and leadership as part of her two-day visit. She also met with students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the University of Nebraska at Omaha regarding their pathways to postsecondary education and solutions to barriers they've encountered in their journey as part of her college listening tour.

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