Interim President Fritz joined by higher ed, business, K-12 leaders in testifying on workforce development
University of Nebraska Interim President Susan Fritz was joined today by leaders in higher education, business and K-12 in testifying before the Legislature about opportunities to meet the growing demand for high-skill, high-demand, high-wage jobs in the state.
In testimony on LR210, an interim study on H3 jobs and workforce needs introduced by Sen. John Stinner of Scottsbluff, Fritz said greater investment in scholarships for students in H3 programs is one strategy that would help address Nebraska’s urgent workforce shortages. In the coming years, Nebraska will have 34,000 annual openings in H3 jobs like engineering, information technology, nursing, teaching and accounting. More than two-thirds of those will require an associate’s degree or higher.
Nebraska’s continued competitiveness, Fritz said, depends on “decisive, creative and collaborative” action now.
“We are losing too many students to institutions in other states – students who should be staying right here in Nebraska to fill the H3 jobs that are key to our future prosperity,” she told members of the Appropriations Committee. She credited Stinner, chairman of the committee, and Vice Chairwoman Kate Bolz of Lincoln for their leadership, and said she looks forward to working with the full Legislature, Gov. Pete Ricketts, and education and private sector partners to continue to grow Nebraska’s economy.
“I am convinced that a significantly greater investment in financial aid would make Nebraska more competitive, more accessible and better positioned to build the workforce of the future. This is exactly the type of idea we should be considering as we think about what we want our state to look like 10, 20 and 30 years down the road.”
According to data presented by Fritz, about half of Nebraska students who score a 28 or higher on the ACT enroll at the University of Nebraska. Among Nebraska students who score a 20 to 27, about a third enroll at NU. More financial aid, she said, would put the university and its higher education partners in a more competitive position to attract all students.
“Across all of public higher education, there is a significant opportunity to expand access for students and grow enrollment in our H3 programs,” she said.
Fritz noted that additional scholarships would build on work the university is already doing to grow the workforce. She praised the NU chancellors and their leadership teams for a “laser focus” on student access and success and economic development. For example:
- The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is making a $160 million public and private investment in expansion of the College of Engineering, including a recently announced $20 million gift from Peter Kiewit Sons’ Inc. toward a new engineering facility. The facility will advance the college’s goal to grow enrollment by 50 percent in the coming decade to help meet the double-digit job growth Nebraska is experiencing in engineering and STEM fields.
The first phase of engineering expansion, a major renovation of the college’s current facilities supported by an NU-State of Nebraska deferred maintenance partnership approved by the Legislature and Governor Ricketts in 2016, is set to begin this fall.
- The University of Nebraska at Omaha’s College of Information Science & Technology also is focused on growth to meet an urgent need for more workers with IT skills. More than 80 percent of IS&T students complete internships in their field, and many stay in the region after graduation.
UNO’s newly launched STEM TRAIL (Teaching, Research and Inquiry-Based Learning) Center coordinates curriculum, research and outreach efforts related to workforce-critical science, technology, engineering & mathematics fields. New academic programs in the past several years include those in biomechanics, information technology, computer science education, biomedical science, supply chain management and health administration.
- The University of Nebraska Medical Center aims to address shortages of healthcare professionals that are especially affecting rural communities. The state has designated virtually all Nebraska counties as shortage areas in internal medicine, general pediatrics, OB/GYN, pediatric dentistry, psychiatry and mental health, and other disciplines. Twenty Nebraska counties are without a full-time dentist, 13 do not have a primary care physician and 77 do not have a practicing pediatrician.
UNMC programs like the Rural, Kearney and Urban Health Opportunities Programs are growing a stronger healthcare pipeline, and the Health Science Education Complex in Kearney, a public-private partnership, will produce a projected 126 graduates annually in nursing and allied health professions – many of whom remain in rural Nebraska to practice.
- The University of Nebraska at Kearney offers programs in computer science, information technology, and management information systems that have a 100 percent job placement rate.
Additionally, a new STEM building is set to open next year that will house construction management, industrial distribution, interior design, aviation, mathematics and statistics, physics and astronomy, and engineering programs. The facility – made possible by the NU-state deferred maintenance partnership – will also house the new cyber systems department, developed in response to local workforce demands. Three-fourths of UNK’s cyber systems graduates are employed in Nebraska and half are employed in Kearney.
Joining Fritz in testifying on LR210 were:
- Paul Turman, chancellor of the Nebraska State College System
- Brian McDermott, director of institutional research for Central Community College
- Paul Illich, president of Southeast Community College
- Jim Sutfin, superintendent of Millard Public Schools
- Dana Bradford, board member for the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce
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