Chairman Stinner and members of the Committee, I am Ted Carter (T-E-D C-A-R-T-E-R) and I am president of the University of Nebraska. Thank you for the opportunity to be with you today to encourage your support for the Nebraska Career Scholarships program.
I thank Governor Ricketts for proposing this important investment in Nebraska’s workforce development. Thank you also to this Committee for including the Nebraska Career Scholarships in your preliminary budget. It is gratifying to know that Nebraska’s elected leaders care so deeply about the value of education and that you have made affordable excellence at our colleges and universities a priority for so many years.
Mr. Chairman, your leadership in introducing LB639 to invest in scholarships for high-need, high-demand, high-wage fields has been crucial in bringing us to this point. And Senator Bolz, your leadership of the Economic Development Task Force has brought key issues related to workforce growth to the forefront for many Nebraskans.
Two days before I officially stepped into this role, I picked up the newspaper and read an unsettling headline.
The newest Census numbers were showing that more people left our state last year than moved in. And 2019 wasn’t an aberration. Over time, Nebraska’s outmigration challenge has exacerbated the workforce shortage that I know is one of the most urgent issues that all of you are dealing with.
The same can be said for me, for Chancellors Green, Gold and Kristensen, and for the people sitting behind me. My colleagues at our state chambers of commerce have said it well… Workforce is the single most critical challenge facing Nebraska today.
I have every reason to think we can change that headline. We have an opportunity, together, to turn Nebraska’s “brain drain” into “brain gain.”
I would suggest to you that we need to act quickly and decisively in order to create the kind of growth and prosperity that Nebraskans deserve. But the fact that so much of our state’s leadership, representing government, business, K-12 and higher education, are at the table together talking about solutions gives me great confidence that we can turn the tide.
The Nebraska Career Scholarships represents one such opportunity. This program would make a difference for students and our state in a number of ways.
Number one, the scholarships would address shortages in our workforce that we know are especially acute. In the coming years, Nebraska will have 34,000 annual openings in high-demand, high-skill, high-wage jobs like engineering, IT and nursing. The majority of these – more than two-thirds – will require at least an associate’s degree.
And this is not a uniquely urban or rural problem. The needs are as high in your district, Mr. Chairman, or your district, Senator Erdman, as they are in Senator Vargas’ or Vice Chairwoman Bolz’ district.
Candidly, while we are doing good work, Nebraska’s colleges and universities are not currently producing enough graduates to meet the need. Across the board, we are laser-focused on growth – the bold plans at the College of Engineering that Chancellor Green and his team have underway are one example – but a greater investment in scholarships would help us attract more students into the programs that our workforce is depending on.
Number two, and equally important, more scholarships means more access for our young people. Not just the 51,000 students of the University of Nebraska, but students at our community and state colleges, and future generations of students who are hoping to turn the dream of a college education into reality. You will hear from two of our students in a few moments, and I think you will find their stories as powerful as I do.
I know many of us at this table have a special interest in making college more affordable for all students. I’m pleased that the Nebraska Career Scholarships would allow us to cast a wide net in terms of access. As written, we could award a scholarship to any student in an eligible academic program who meets the minimum ACT score required for admission to the University of Nebraska.
In other words, this program is not limited only to students with the highest ACT scores. If we want to be a University for everyone – and we do – then this is the right approach, balancing our desire to recognize academic merit with our fundamental mission to create access for all.
The program would also allow us to target transfer students, an increasingly important population of Nebraskans in the context of our workforce challenges.
Some of you may be familiar with a Georgetown University center that regularly analyzes trends in educational demand and the workforce. Their newest analysis, to be released in a few months, will show that while postsecondary demand remains high, jobs for people with some college and no degree are shrinking.
291,000 of our fellow Nebraskans are in this category – almost one-quarter of our working-age population. For whatever reason – family obligations, work, geographic challenges, lack of support, or something else – these Nebraskans started school but never earned the diploma that could improve their competitive standing. We have a clear opportunity to help these students complete their programs, whether on one of our physical campuses or via distance through our online programs. A greater investment in financial aid to attract these Nebraskans back to college and steer them to a degree could have dramatic implications for our workforce and individual prosperity.
Nebraska’s workforce challenges are as complex as they are urgent. A scholarship program is not the only solution. But I believe the Career Scholarships would put Nebraska in a more competitive position to recruit and retain the talented young people our workforce needs.
That’s good news for our state, it’s good for our economy, and it sends a positive message to future generations that we care about them and we want them here. This is exactly the kind of idea we should be talking about as we look over the horizon together and think about what we want Nebraska to look like 10, 20 and 30 years down the road.
I thank Governor Ricketts again for making this proposal a priority, and I thank each of you for your time today. I would be happy to answer any questions.