One of the fundamental responsibilities of the University of Nebraska is to offer excellent academic programs that prepare students to be successful.
That requires a few key ingredients. First, we need talented faculty and staff – and the university is fortunate to have some of the best working on our campuses.
Second, we must provide classrooms, laboratories and offices suited to 21st-century education and research.
There is no question that in today’s incredibly competitive higher education marketplace, the quality of our buildings plays a vital role in our ability to attract and retain talent and ensure an excellent education. No matter who I ask – students, faculty, administrators, parents or business leaders looking to hire our graduates – the answer is the same. When it comes to sustaining an excellent university, facilities matter.
“There is no question that in today’s incredibly competitive higher education marketplace, the quality of our buildings plays a vital role in our ability to attract and retain talent and ensure an excellent education.”
Investments by the Legislature and generous donors have made impressive physical growth possible, including new facilities for education and student life that are enhancing the learning experience. An infusion of state funding provided by the Legislature and Governor in the last legislative session will further advance NCTA’s quality, allowing the college to hire a veterinarian and provide more competitive faculty salaries that will help attract and retain top talent. We are grateful to policymakers for their support.
We are fortunate that many of our buildings are in good condition. I am grateful both to private donors, who have funded more than half of the university’s capital construction projects since 1999, and Nebraska policymakers, who have generously partnered with us for nearly 20 years to help keep our facilities updated, functional and safe. Their partnership is a primary reason why the university is in a strong position today. For example, one of the previously renovated facilities, Bennett Hall at UNMC, served as the first “home” for our allied health programs, which today comprise a college experiencing momentum in student and faculty growth, reputation and workforce development.
At the same time, just as most Nebraskans have ongoing obligations to keep their homes in good shape, building maintenance needs at the University of Nebraska aren’t going away. The current cost to bring all our buildings to “like new” condition exceeds $1.1 billion – a figure that will only grow without a proactive, focused plan to make sure our students and faculty have quality facilities in which to learn and work.
That’s why we are asking the state to extend its partnership with the university on building renovation projects. Certainly we understand that neither partner has the resources to fund every renovation need. But university buildings make up 70 percent of Nebraska’s net total building assets and we believe policymakers have a stake in working with us to provide students and employees the resources they need to be successful in meeting the needs of the state.
Legislators are balancing many priorities and I am pleased that Chairman Mello and members of the Appropriations Committee are supportive of continuing our long and successful partnership. With support from the state, we would be in a position to undertake select renovation projects informed by a data-driven analysis of our buildings and careful consideration of university and state priorities.
The facilities that make up UNL’s engineering complex, for example, are among the most heavily used on campus, yet they are also among those most in need of renovation. And, engineering is a strategic priority for the university and the state. Modernizing our engineering facilities would put the college in the best position to meet widely documented workforce needs and makes sense for our students, faculty and Nebraska’s economy.
Updates to the Strauss Performing Arts Center at UNO would provide for modern-day space that would better meet the needs of today’s students and musicians. And the Otto Olsen facility at UNK, built more than 60 years ago, has outlived its usefulness. UNK students would be better served by a new facility that could accommodate program growth in areas that matter to Nebraska.
The University of Nebraska plays a central role in the success of the state. A new independent analysis found that our teaching, research and outreach activities grow Nebraska’s economy by $3.9 billion annually and that we support 1 of every 36 jobs in the state. Beyond the numbers are the many ways in which we build vibrant communities with a high quality of life.
Sustaining that impact requires us to continue to take steps to ensure an even stronger university. Maintaining facilities that serve thousands of students and employees daily is one such step. I look forward to continuing to partner with policymakers on this important responsibility.