In the spirit of the New Year, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about where the University of Nebraska has been and where we’re headed next.
Many of us set resolutions this time of year. It’s appropriate, then, that when I think about the students, faculty and staff I have the privilege of serving with every day, a word that comes to mind is “resolve.”
It’s a word that captures the spirit of Nebraskans as a whole – people I’ve come to know as unafraid of a challenge and willing to work together toward a shared vision.
At times, we are tested. That has been the case at the University of Nebraska in recent years.
We’ve been through a period of fiscal stress, confronted with cuts that have impacted lives and the very structure of the organization. Like most universities, we have faced challenges related to enrollment, campus climate and student well-being. We’ve had limited resources for priorities that are increasingly urgent and complex: infectious disease, hunger, terrorism, educational access.
It would have been easy for our faculty, staff and students to hunker down and wait for challenges to pass.
Instead, we put our foot on the accelerator.
Challenges aren’t going away. But when I listen to what’s happening across our campuses, I hear pride, gratitude and excitement about the future and what we can achieve together.
I heard UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green deliver a State of the University address in which he honored the university’s 150-year history and outlined bold goals for the next chapter – acknowledging that while some goals might stretch us, it would be a disservice to Nebraskans not to think big.
I’ve heard UNO Chancellor Jeff Gold state that his goal is for every student on his campus to complete their academic journey. Why would we aim for anything less?
At UNMC, Chancellor Gold has helped stand up one of the leading cancer centers in the country. We continue to earn national headlines for our preparedness in monitoring and treating Ebola patients.
I’ve heard UNK Chancellor Doug Kristensen talk the talk about the life-changing power of higher education, and then walk the walk. The stories of first-generation UNK students who may not otherwise have had access to college are ones I’ll never forget.
I’ve heard all our chancellors agree that we are going to do everything possible to address Nebraska’s workforce crisis. That’s why we are unified in our goal to build a more vibrant, competitive engineering enterprise, and why we are working across campuses to expand our partnerships with small businesses and create academic programs that will strengthen the workforce pipeline.
I’ve heard our philanthropic partners say they recognize that the University is a uniquely powerful economic engine and want to invest accordingly. A new privately funded program to educate more outstanding teachers for Nebraska’s workforce is one recent example.
Similarly, I’ve heard business leaders say again and again that their top needs from the University are workforce, workforce and workforce. The 11,000 graduates we produce each year aren’t enough to meet Nebraska’s economic needs. We’re especially short on high-skill, high-wage, high-demand jobs – like those in engineering, IT and nursing – that are key to prosperity.
And as our hard-working policymakers begin another legislative session, I’ve heard them express strong support for the vital role the University of Nebraska plays in the long-term success of our state.
Nebraska has been a partner in ensuring affordable, excellent education at its University for almost 150 years. I have every reason to believe that will continue. On the heels of a difficult budget cycle, I appreciated that the budget proposal released by Governor Ricketts funds a significant portion of the University’s request and includes money for scholarships in high-need areas. The Governor’s budget is a positive basis for our conversations with policymakers in the months ahead, and we look forward to working with him and the Legislature on a path forward.
In this new year, I remain convinced that the best days for our University and state are ahead of us.