By Ted Carter
President, University of Nebraska System
At our last University of Nebraska Board of Regents meeting, we heard a presentation about Nebraska’s workforce challenges that made us all sit up straighter in our chairs.
Fast-growing, high-wage jobs – like those in science, IT, engineering, healthcare and business – are significantly more likely to be filled by people with a bachelor’s degree or above. That’s according to the Center for Public Affairs Research at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
At the same time, Nebraska is not currently competitive in the share of our working-age population who hold at least a four-year degree, ranking just 26th in the nation. The “brain drain” of college-educated workers leaving our state continues to be a challenge.
High-skilled jobs are the proven pathway to Nebraska’s economic growth and competitiveness – and we as a state have work to do in order to educate and retain the talented workforce that will power our growth trajectory forward.
All of higher education is part of the solution. But I would argue that for a state with bold growth goals in its sights, there is no more powerful investment than in its public university.
Here at the University of Nebraska, I am proud to say that for every $1 the people of our state entrust to us, we return $9 in economic activity. We take seriously our responsibility to put every one of Nebraskans’ dollars to good use, and I believe the numbers alone show we are responsible and effective stewards. From the 11,000 graduates we produce each year to the $16 million we add to Nebraska’s economy every day, the University of Nebraska’s impact on our state’s economy is significant and far-reaching.
What’s more, numbers only tell so much of the story.
College opens a lifetime of opportunities for every student who enrolls – preparing them not just for the job they will hold when they’re 25, but also the jobs they’ll hold at 35, 50 and beyond. The fact is most of those jobs haven’t even been created yet. Our duty is to educate students for a lifetime of learning, curiosity and growth.
This has certainly been true in my own life. I was offered a scholarship to study baritone saxophone, then had an opportunity to study medicine at an Ivy League university. I ended up choosing to attend the U.S. Naval Academy – which brought with it the chance to work on the college magazine, captain the hockey team, spend 38 years flying missions around the world and ultimately serve as your university president.
College opened a pathway I couldn’t have dreamed of at age 18. That’s exactly what it’s supposed to do. And that is what we do for 50,000 students every year – young people who will go on to start businesses in their hometowns, teach the next generation of students, lead the family farm and provide our health care, ultimately ensuring vibrant and growing communities.
University research also creates a ripple effect in Nebraska’s economy. Consider that the University of Nebraska is ranked among the top 100 institutions in the world for earning patents for our faculty members’ research. Each patent represents a growth opportunity: These faculty turn their discoveries into new companies, new jobs and new technologies that may not exist here in Nebraska if not for the presence of a world-leading university.
New surgical devices that save lives, tools to fight wildfires, treatments for devastating diseases like HIV – these are only a few examples of the innovations that exist because some of the best minds in the world are working right here in Nebraska to improve the human condition and grow our economy in the process.
We’re able to achieve these things because we have been purposeful with our resources, directing every dollar to areas where we can create the greatest impact. Nebraska’s elected leaders have been steady and generous partners in our efforts, consistently recognizing the tremendous value of an affordable, accessible, competitive public university. Because of their support, the University of Nebraska is able to provide students and families a combination of quality and value that you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else.
The University of Nebraska is a proven ingredient in Nebraska’s recipe for growth. As a state, now is the time for us to take our growth opportunity and create our next chapter of economic and workforce success.