Good morning, and welcome to the University of Nebraska’s second annual Rural Futures Conference. Special greetings to those of you joining us for the first time. I am especially pleased that tomorrow we will be joined by Tom Vilsack, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, who is delivering the Heuermann Lecture on his vision for rural America and growing the rural economy. Secretary Vilsack will be here in his capacity as chair of the White House’s National Rural Council and we’ll be delighted to have him in Nebraska. I think the president’s creation of the Rural Council indicates that rural issues are regarded at the very highest levels as critical to the nation’s health.
I want to say a word about the history of the university’s Rural Futures Institute, because I’ve been a supporter and champion of this initiative since Day 1 and I have a deep personal interest in the work that will take place here. The inspiration, of course, dates back to 1862 and the land-grant movement in this country. Nebraska, like Wisconsin, Missouri, Michigan and many other states represented at this conference, was at the forefront of this movement and is still committed to it today. The Morrill Act ushered in a remarkable period of advancement in this country that we are reaping the benefits of in the 21st century: opening the doors of higher education to the sons and daughters of farmers and mill workers, creating a platform for research to provide economic opportunity and advance a new nation, and connecting through extensions and other means the intellectual capital of great universities with people in the field, the factory and our communities.
There have been many initiatives in Nebraska and elsewhere to further this important work, but I know that many of us felt we were not realizing the full potential of what could be achieved by leveraging our resources, intellectual capacity and energy. The forerunner for this effort was the Nebraska Rural Initiative, launched in the late 1990s by the University. With the wise guidance of Sam Cordes and others, we assessed what was positive with that initiative and others, but more importantly what could be achieved with the right recipe. The germ of an idea for RFI was hatched. With the addition of Ronnie Green, we had a partner who shared the vision and commitment and brought new energy and ambition to our dream.
A year and a half ago, when we hosted the first Rural Futures Conference, the idea began to catch fire. The Rural Futures Institute hadn’t been officially launched yet. We didn’t have an organization or permanent leadership in place. We had begun laying the groundwork by surveying faculty and other key stakeholders, but our thinking about the mission of the institute was still in its nascent stages. We are much indebted to Mark Gustafson for his early leadership as interim director of the Rural Futures Institute.
Last year’s conference – in which a number of you were active participants – provided an opportunity for us to test our theory that an institute dedicated to rural life and development was something we should invest in. We sensed that an institute like this could make a major difference in the lives of rural residents in Nebraska and globally, and we felt that the University of Nebraska – with faculty and resources across four campuses, partners around the state, and a rich history of serving Nebraska’s communities – had an opportunity to take a leadership role. We knew we were talking about something big that involved significant risk… but as I said then, and as I continue to believe, that’s what makes this worth doing.
But we wanted to confirm with external partners that this was a path we should go down. And you helped us do just that. Not only with interest in our first conference that exceeded our capacity, but with your deep engagement, energy and support for what we had set out to do. Two broad concepts came out of that conference that have greatly helped our thinking: First, it became clear that if we were going to create a Rural Futures Institute, it needed to be truly trans-disciplinary. This is not about agriculture or business or health or tourism alone. It involves all of those disciplines and many others – law, economics, transportation, medicine and public health, communication – all the areas relevant to rural people and rural communities. The University of Nebraska, with faculty with expertise in each of these areas, is well-positioned to address such a range of issues.
Secondly, the conference validated the idea that the research mission of the institute needed to be broad-based, including the biological sciences, social sciences, the business world, the legal world and others. But to realize the vision many of you helped nurture, we cannot do this alone. We knew we needed to engage partners in the state, regionally and beyond in order to be successful.
I am pleased to be able to say that today, in addition to continuing to talk about those things, we’re doing them. We have made real progress since the last time we convened this conference. First, we’ve hired a founding executive director of the Rural Futures Institute, Chuck Schroeder, a son of the soil from a ranching community with deep experience with and passion for rural issues. Chuck doesn’t officially begin until Dec. 1 but he is already engaged in the work of the institute and he is with us this week. I believe we’ve found exactly the right person to lead the institute through its early phases and I could not be more pleased to have attracted Chuck back to Nebraska. Chuck will speak tomorrow about his vision for the institute and it will be an excellent opportunity for all of us to hear from him directly.
Additionally, following a call for proposals, we have awarded $750,000 in competitive grants for teaching, research and outreach projects focused on issues of importance to the Rural Futures Institute.
In evaluating the many proposals we received, we kept in mind a few key criteria: The projects had to involve faculty from one or more University of Nebraska campus, and they had to involve partnerships outside the university. The first round of projects is underway and they are addressing issues as diverse as ecotourism, juvenile re-entry into rural communities, rural public health, rural entrepreneurship, community marketing and others. All four University of Nebraska campuses are represented among the grant recipients, as are partners in the business sector, government and other land-grant institutions. We’ll initiate the second round of grants at this conference and I’m excited to see what new projects come out of that.
Much of the heavy lifting for the Rural Futures Institute is in front of us. But when I reflect on where we were just a short time ago, I am extremely pleased with the steps we’ve taken and the momentum and energy that I see around this initiative. That is a testament to the hard work and commitment of colleagues at the University of Nebraska and other universities represented here today, community leaders around the state and across the region and beyond who share our vision for a Rural Futures Institute that will help create, grow, and sustain a vibrant, competitive future for rural people and communities everywhere. I want to thank you for your collaboration thus far – and urge you to keep thinking boldly and creatively going forward.
Again, welcome to the Rural Futures Conference. I think we have a great couple of days ahead of us, and I’m excited to see what new ideas emerge.
Appropriations Committee hearing (budget), March 2013
Testimony of James B. Milliken - President, University of Nebraska
Appropriations Committee – March 19, 2013 Chairman Mello, members of the committee, I am J.B. Milliken, president of the University of Nebraska and I am pleased to join Regent Clare in support of the University’s budget request for 2013-15.
Higher education is more important today than at any time in our history. The connections between educational attainment, personal earning power and the economic competitiveness of a state or region are well documented and widely acknowledged. The Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce has done state-by-state projections of jobs and education requirements through 2018; their report shows that 66% of Nebraska jobs will require education beyond high school – 7th highest in the nation – and that we will add 56,000 new jobs requiring post-secondary education and training over the next five years.
More recent studies by the same center reinforced that message, showing that unemployment for recent high school graduates is almost four times higher than for college graduates; and, that since the recent recession began, the number of jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree increased by 2.2 million, while those requiring an associate’s degree broke even and those requiring a high school diploma or less decreased by 5.8 million. New data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that workers with a bachelor’s degree earn, on average, 36% more than those with an associate’s degree and 63% more than those with a high school diploma – making a million-dollar difference over a lifetime.
Increasing educational attainment in the United States has become a high priority nationally. Last fall I joined some 500 presidents of colleges and universities in pledging to increase the number of college graduates by 3.8 million by 2025. Our own ambitious growth goals at the University – to increase enrollment by 10,000 students to 60,000 this decade and to increase graduation rates—are aligned with those priorities.
At the same time, there has never been greater scrutiny of higher education – from tuition and student debt to graduation and retention rates and student success—as well as increasing pressure on state funds. In addition, there have never been more challenges and opportunities presented by technology – online learning, MOOCs and other technological advances.
We would be the first to say that there are areas where we can improve. We have put metrics in place for each of the goals of our strategic framework that Regent Clare outlined; we report on our progress on those at every Board meeting and they are always on our website.
Affordable access has been the Board’s number one priority and we have been successful in keeping tuition well below the average of our campuses’ peers—resulting in a significant value for Nebraskans. We have also increased financial aid for those who need it most. This year we are encouraging a more dramatic statement about tuition at Nebraska—and I know you’re quite familiar with that.
On a related note, student debt is a concern in Nebraska and nationally, but our story is better than many. Average debt at UNL averages $21,000, the lowest among its peer institutions, which average $25,000. We will continue to work with our students and their families on financial literacy, and continue to advocate for affordability and student financial aid. And our student loan default rates are the lowest in Nebraska.
Although we are not satisfied with graduation rates, on two of our three predominantly undergraduate campuses we exceed the average of our peer institutions; UNL lags the peer average by 3 percent but is gaining and does well in state and national comparisons. We want these rates to be higher and we are implementing a number of strategies to achieve this.
As one example, last year the Board approved a new university-wide policy capping the number of credit hours required for graduation at 120, to help ensure that students can graduate in four years. We have found great success with new strategies for student retention, including the Thompson Learning Communities and early warning systems.
We have ambitious plans for the future of the university and the state. To meet our enrollment goals, we will recruit more aggressively in Nebraska, outside the state, and internationally. We will continue to strengthen our online education programs at both the high school and college level, leveraging the power of technology to serve more Nebraskans and to expand nationally and globally. That growth will require investments in facilities, faculty and student support services – but it will help position Nebraska for success.
We now offer 1,500 courses and more than 130 programs online – including bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, PhDs and certificates. We have seen a 130 percent increase in online credit hours over the past five years, which tells us that we are meeting the needs of working adults and full-time students who need increased access and flexibility in order to reach their academic goals. We also have a fully accredited online high school, offering 100 courses, both foundational and advanced placement, to students in Nebraska (and globally) to supplement their high school courses or whose schedules prevent them from taking needed classes.
It’s tempting to say that the goal of all higher education should be to educate the greatest number of students for the lowest cost. And for certain kinds of institutions—small liberal arts colleges, regional universities, community colleges—that may be a very appropriate metric.
There are of course such institutions in Nebraska that spend less per student than we spend at the University of Nebraska. Their missions, their responsibilities, and their cost structures are very different from ours. There is nothing new about this; one of the great strengths of American higher education is the diversity of institutions, serving different types of students with different educational needs and providing states with a wide range of educational resources and strategies.
The University of Nebraska is a research university … the only public research university in the state. It includes a land-grant campus with all that mission implies for the state; a metropolitan campus engaged with extensive community outreach; a health science center with medical research and treatment that is second to none; a residential undergraduate campus that serves many students from greater Nebraska, with a majority being the first in their families to attend college; and a two-year school of technical agriculture focused on aspects of the ag workforce.
Without taking away anything from the other fine institutions in the state, it’s clear that the University of Nebraska’s mission, structure and operation are far more complex and multi-faceted than a small liberal arts college, or a community or state college.
The significant investments that we make in research in water, energy, early childhood, public health, engineering, cancer, national security and other fields create new knowledge, new jobs and new economic vitality for our state. This research has greatly improved the quality of life in Nebraska and has the potential, literally, to change the world.
Funds spent on research in agriculture alone have contributed enormously to the productivity and profitability of our crop and livestock enterprises – having an impact not just on Nebraska but on global food security. And funds spent on extension and outreach, in every county in Nebraska, have modernized agriculture, strengthened families and built successful new businesses. In our state, with many public and private institutions, these are activities unique to the University of Nebraska.
With regard to the work that is uniquely the mission of a research university, there could hardly be better examples of significant progress in recent years. Our recent selection by the Department of Defense as one of only 14 universities nationwide to host a university-affiliated research center, or UARC, provides tremendous opportunities for Nebraska. The UARC promises significantly higher federal investment in basic research, the opportunity to help keep our soldiers, citizens and allies safe, and a valuable step in significantly deepening the university’s ties to Stratcom.
The potential of Nebraska Innovation Campus is huge, and we very much appreciate the investment the state has made toward the renovation of the 4H building and the construction of a new research facility focused on food, fuel and water. The state investment, which we are leveraging many times over, provided a critical spark. It was a key factor in ConAgra’s decision late last year to become our first industry partner, and it will pay significant and long-term dividends for Nebraska.
Likewise, your commitment last year to the Building a Healthier Nebraska initiative will have far-reaching benefits for the state. Next month we will break ground on the first phase of the comprehensive cancer center in Omaha, which has the potential to transform the diagnosis and treatment of cancer in our state and region. Work will also begin soon on a new health sciences building in Kearney, to help address growing shortages in the rural healthcare workforce, especially in nursing. And we are making good progress on plans for the veterinary diagnostic lab, which is critical to our livestock industry and food safety.
We recognize the state’s partnership with the university in these endeavors is critical, and it happened during difficult budget years. We understand the causes that led to five years of flat operations funding for the university, and we have not been critical, although we have pointed out each year that it is not, in our view, sustainable.
The University budget has been prudently managed over those five years, making $31 million in reallocations to cover rising costs associated with teaching a growing number of students while reducing the number of FTE paid for by our state-aided budget, and conducting research on an unprecedented scale. But a renewed state investment is critical if we are to continue to provide affordable access to a high quality education – which is our highest priority.
Funding at the level requested would allow us to do something we haven’t done in nearly 25 years: offer our students no tuition increase for the next two years. I hear very positive reactions to this everywhere I go.
Our request also anticipates modest salary increases, to begin to close the gap between UNL and UNMC faculty and those at their peer institutions, as well as funding for our highest-impact academic and research programs—strategic investments that have led to recent successes and a tremendous ROI.
As you know, our budget request also includes the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture in Curtis, which has seen a real resurgence in the past two years, with new facilities including a residence hall and education center, new programs focused on ag entrepreneurship, and recruiting a new dean.
The other component of our request is $17 million in one-time capital construction funding for a new facility for the College of Nursing’s Lincoln campus. This was part of the Building a Healthier Nebraska initiative and remains our number one capital priority. I would ask the Committee to again consider this project, which would replace an inadequate and ill-suited facility in downtown Lincoln and allow us to better meet the demand for nursing education to help address the growing shortage of nurses in Nebraska.
The Building a Healthier Nebraska initiative that was funded last year also included a new veterinary diagnostic lab, for which the legislature appropriated $50 million, to be matched with $5 million in private or other support. This appropriation was based on early estimates, which have now been revised and we have reduced the price down by almost $10 million, to $45.6 million. We have two requests in connection with this: first, that you reduce the required “private or other” match for vet diagnostics proportionately, from $5 million to $4.1 million. And, that the $9 million in state funds that will not be needed for the lab be redirected to a new College of Nursing facility in Lincoln.
I appreciate the committee’s consideration and would be pleased to respond to your questions.
Statement on the Appropriations Committee’s preliminary budget recommendations, Feb. 28, 2013
Statement on the Appropriations Committee’s preliminary budget recommendations, Feb. 28, 2013
Statement of President Milliken on the Governor's budget recommendations
I am deeply disappointed in the Governor's proposed budget for the University of Nebraska. At a time when higher education is more important than ever for individual economic opportunity as well as state competitiveness, Nebraska risks taking a big step backwards.
The University's number one goal has been affordable access to a college education, and with the leadership of the Governor and the Legislature over the last two years, we have kept tuition increases at their lowest levels in years. The Governor and I have joined to advocate a significant increase in the state's college-going rate. But under this proposed budget, access and affordability for students and families would suffer.
I have high regard for Governor Heineman, and I have no doubt he believes the course he has recommended is good for Nebraska. But funding higher education at a level that would almost certainly restrict access and require a combination of significant tuition increases and major cuts to programs cannot be good for our state's future.
The key to Nebraska's future is to be successful in the competition for talent—by providing quality teaching, research and outreach for Nebraskans and by attracting new, talented people to our state. I believe Nebraskans understand that investing in higher education is essential to this goal.