For those of us in education, a new school year signals new beginnings. This is a time to set our sights higher as we consider our opportunities to transform the lives of young people and the communities we serve.
I’ve been an educator my entire professional life – as a teacher and administrator, in K-12 and higher education, with experience in the U.S. and abroad. I arrived in Nebraska two and a half years ago with little knowledge about this state or its people beyond the fact that together they had built a great public university that had the potential to change the world.
“I know of few institutions that have the kind of impact the University of Nebraska has on the people and places it serves.”
Here’s what I know today: That potential is as great as it has ever been.
In fact, I know of few institutions that have the kind of impact the University of Nebraska has on the people and places it serves. That’s a credit to elected leaders who are working hard to serve our state and strengthen Nebraska’s economy. And it’s thanks to parents, community leaders, alumni and thousands of donors who have supported their university for almost 150 years because they recognize the vital link between education and Nebraska’s continued success.
What’s most exciting is that together with our partners, the university can grow its impact on Nebraska’s economy and quality of life even further. The fiscal challenges we’re facing only add to the urgency of joining hands on a plan to grow this state.
That’s what I’m thinking about in this new academic year.
I’m focused on our 52,500 students, Nebraska’s future workforce, who come to us from all 93 counties and places around the world. They’re the next generation of farmers and ranchers, nurses and doctors, teachers, entrepreneurs and scientists. They’re here because they recognize a college degree is the surest path to success in an economy driven by new knowledge and innovation. And they’re here because they know they can get an outstanding education without accumulating the student debt levels we see in the national headlines.
I’m focused on our economy and what we need to do to stay competitive. The University of Nebraska already grows our state by $3.9 billion annually, a 6-to-1 return on Nebraskans’ investment. I hear from legislators and taxpayers alike how proud – even taken aback – they are that their university provides that kind of return. We can do even more to leverage public investments with an unprecedented level of private support to move our state forward.
I’m focused on the University of Nebraska’s role in addressing the health needs of the day. We’re working to produce more health care professionals who are in especially short supply in rural areas. And the newly opened Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center is making Nebraska a destination for cancer care and research – a source of hope for the 1 of every 2 Nebraskans who will be diagnosed and a point of pride for our entire state.
I’m focused on research that benefits Nebraskans. Our work in improving crop yields is transforming agriculture here and abroad, bringing new resources to bear in the fight against global hunger. Our partnership with USSTRATCOM is yielding new methods for keeping our men and women in uniform safe. Our leadership in battling infectious disease means Nebraska is well-positioned to manage one of the most urgent public health challenges of our time.
Nebraska’s current fiscal environment means we can’t do everything we want to do. Like any family or business, we’re making difficult decisions about how to invest our limited resources. As I’ve told our faculty, staff and students, cuts during a period of remarkable momentum are a painful reality that we will manage to the best of our ability. We’re doing everything we can to re-think our operations for the future so we can reduce spending while keeping tuition affordable and maintaining our academic quality.
But we can’t cut our way to excellence. Nebraska’s university must be a part of the solution for growing our way out of this challenge. We have unlimited opportunities to make our state an even better place to live, work and raise a family. I’m excited to work alongside Nebraskans to make that happen – because I believe our best days are ahead.