Interim President Linder, key NU constituents testify in support of university legislative agenda
University of Nebraska Interim President James Linder, M.D., and Board of Regents Chairman Bob Phares were joined today by business leaders, students, agricultural representatives and others in testifying before the Appropriations Committee in support of the university’s 2015 legislative agenda.
In reviewing NU’s 2015-17 budget request, Linder noted that a stable base of state support is fundamental to the university’s ability to meet its core needs, such as salaries and benefits, utilities, IT and facility operations and maintenance, while also keeping tuition low compared to peers. He thanked policymakers for their history of recognizing the important role the university plays in ensuring Nebraska’s economic health and well-being and said their partnership is a key factor in NU’s current momentum.
“The University of Nebraska is in a strong position today thanks to the hard work of many,” Linder said, highlighting recent progress in enrollment, expanded access and affordability, research, technology transfer, public-private partnerships and other areas. “What’s important is that we can do even more to serve Nebraskans, if the right investments are made,” he added.
NU’s budget request, approved unanimously by the Board of Regents last July, includes a 1 percent annual increase for core operations and a 3 percent annual increase for salaries for faculty and staff outside the collective bargaining units at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and University of Nebraska at Kearney. The salary increase, Linder said, would help the university keep up with peer institutions, many of whom are planning similar increases for the coming year. Salaries for NU’s non-unionized faculty and staff currently lag the peer averages by 6 to 9 percent, with some gaps even more significant.
“We are competing in a global market to attract and retain our employees – the people who teach our students, who conduct groundbreaking research, and perform outreach in every county of the state,” Linder said.
Linder also pointed to the university’s success over the past decade in implementing moderate and predictable tuition increases, made possible by stable levels of state support, that help students and families plan for the costs of college. Tuition rates on all four NU campuses are well below the peer averages, and student debt levels are at or below those at peer institutions. In addition, more than half of all University of Nebraska undergraduates receive financial aid, including 7,000 who qualify to pay no tuition through the Collegebound Nebraska program.
“Today it is more important than ever to expand access to higher education to even more students,” Linder said, pointing to a Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce analysis that found that by 2020, 71 percent of all jobs in Nebraska will require education beyond high school. “The facts are clear: If we want to meet the workforce needs of the future, and keep our economy strong, we must ensure that a college education is within reach for all students who are qualified and want to attend,” he said.
Phares, in his testimony, briefed senators on NU’s Strategic Framework, which lays out goals related to affordable access, quality academic programs, workforce development, research excellence, outreach to Nebraskans and cost-effectiveness and accountability. The university regularly and publicly reports its progress in these areas, and current data is available online.
The university also is proposing a $20 million economic competitiveness package that would advance multi-campus initiatives focused on job growth, workforce development, talent recruitment, and public-private partnerships. The package – contained within LB 154, sponsored by Speaker Galen Hadley – has drawn support from the state’s leading business groups, including the Nebraska, Greater Omaha and Lincoln chambers of commerce, Ag Builders of Nebraska, rural community leaders, NU student governments, faculty and others. It seeks investments in:
- The Health Science Education Complex in Kearney, which would house expanded University of Nebraska Medical Center nursing and allied health programs on the UNK campus.
- Nebraska Innovation Campus, the public-private research and development campus that will leverage faculty research for economic growth.
- The Peter Kiewit Institute, which has a bold new strategic plan for growth in enrollment, research, faculty hiring, programming and outreach in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln engineering and UNO information science and technology colleges.
- The Rural Futures Institute, a university-wide initiative focused on expanding economic opportunity and the quality of life in nonmetropolitan areas.
- The National Strategic Research Institute, a university-wide initiative conducting research in critical areas related to national security and defense.
- Various business engagement and workforce development programs, including a new biomedical institute jointly led by UNMC and UNO that will allow faculty to commercialize their biomedical technology innovations; expansion of the UNO-based Nebraska Business Development Center, which serves businesses in seven Nebraska locations; and expanded services for veteran students on the four campuses.
Linder told legislators that there is a strong business case for the proposal. Jerry Deichert, director of UNO’s Center for Public Affairs Research, recently conducted an analysis of the economic competitiveness package and found that it would create more than 1,100 Nebraska jobs, generate $58 million in labor income, and have a $108 million impact on the state’s economy in 2017 – a return on the proposed state investment of more than 5 to 1.
Linder pointed to the university’s ongoing efforts to increase cost effectiveness. The university has made $80 million in budget reallocations since 2000 and has kept staffing and administrative spending levels below the peer averages. The number of NU employees funded from tax and tuition dollars has remained relatively flat since 2000 – despite growth in enrollment and research activity – and the university has successfully grown jobs using federal, private and other non-state funds. Today 42 percent of NU employees, representing $326 million in wages, are funded from sources other than tax and tuition dollars.
In testifying in support of the budget request for the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture, Dean Ron Rosati highlighted NCTA’s current momentum, including enrollment and new programming that is meeting the needs of Nebraska’s agricultural workforce. Additional state support would allow NCTA to move faculty and staff salaries closer to market averages, hire a veterinarian and meat science instructor to meet student demands, and improve lab and classroom equipment so the college can continue to train future agricultural leaders.
NU leaders and supporters also testified on other key pieces of legislation that seek investments in university initiatives that have significant potential to grow Nebraska’s economy:
- LB 532 and LB 533, introduced by Sen. Robert Hilkemann and Sen. John Stinner, respectively, which seek $25 million in capital construction costs, plus operating funds, for a new Global Center for Advanced Interprofessional Learning at UNMC. The center, conceived as a public-private partnership, would provide a low-risk, immersive learning environment that simulates the experience of doing health care procedures for students, first responders, physicians and other providers that would allow them to master concepts more effectively. Using 3D simulation technology training would be provided throughout the state by a “hub and spoke” model, with educational content originating from UNMC.
- LB 560, introduced by Sens. Matt Williams and Adam Morfeld, which seeks $25 million in one-time loan funding to expand space for potential tenants at Innovation Campus. As external experts in economic development and site selection wrote to policymakers, having partially complete, unallocated space for occupancy at Innovation Campus would significantly accelerate the university’s progress in attracting additional private partners to join ConAgra Foods, the first private collaborator, and Hastings HVAC, Quantified Ag and Echo Canyon Services, the recently announced partners that will relocate to Innovation Campus this year.
Director of Communications University of Nebraska