University of Nebraska President James B. Milliken, Regents Chairman Tim Clare testify in support of NU budget request

Note: President Milliken’s full prepared testimony for today’s Appropriations Committee hearing is available here.

Joined by students, leaders in agriculture and business, and others, University of Nebraska President James B. Milliken and Board of Regents Chairman Tim Clare today testified before the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee in support of NU’s biennial budget request.

Milliken noted that the university’s request for a greater state investment comes at a time when the individual and societal benefits of higher education have never been more widely recognized. In Nebraska, two-thirds of all jobs in the coming years will require postsecondary education, ranking the state 7th in the country in demand for college-educated workers. National studies show that individuals with a bachelor’s degree can expect to earn $1 million more over their lifetime than those with only a high school diploma.

For these and other reasons, Milliken noted, increasing educational attainment is a high priority not only in Nebraska, but nationally as well. The University of Nebraska is among 500 colleges and universities nationally that have pledged to increase the number of college graduates by 3.8 million by 2025. The university’s own ambitious growth goals – to increase enrollment by 10,000 this decade and to increase graduation rates – are aligned with those priorities.

“To meet our enrollment goals, we will recruit more aggressively in Nebraska, outside the state and internationally,” Milliken said. “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 additional investments in facilities, faculty and student support services – but it will help position Nebraska for success.”

In addition, the university will continue to identify strategies to improve student success. Milliken highlighted a new Board of Regents policy capping NU baccalaureate degrees at 120 hours as one example of the university’s efforts to ensure timely graduation for students. Clare, in his testimony, briefed senators on the university’s Strategic Framework, which lays out goals related to affordable access, quality academic programs, workforce development, research excellence, outreach to Nebraskans and cost-effectiveness and accountability. The university regularly and publicly reports its progress in these areas, and current data is available online.

One area where NU is adding tremendous value to the state is through research, particularly in agriculture. University-wide research expenditures have more than doubled in the past decade, to nearly $300 million. New initiatives in rural health, defense and national security, water for food, and concussion research are examples of the university’s commitment to leveraging its strengths for the benefit of Nebraskans and others.

“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,” Milliken said. “This research has greatly improved the quality of life in Nebraska and has the potential, literally, to change the world.”

Milliken thanked senators for their recent investments in Nebraska Innovation Campus and NU’s Building a Healthier Nebraska initiative – both of which enjoy considerable early momentum in part because of the state’s partnership. He added that state general funds to the university have been essentially flat for the past five years.

“I believe that we have managed the University budget very prudently 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 full-time equivalent employees paid for by our state-aided budget and conducting research on an unprecedented scale,” Milliken said. “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.”

Through a proposed “affordability compact” with the state, the university seeks an increase in state appropriations that would average 4.2 percent per year over the biennium. With this level of state funding, NU would freeze tuition for all Nebraska students for the next two years. The average Nebraska undergraduate would save an estimated $1,000 over two years.

NU’s highest capital priority in the Legislature remains a new College of Nursing division in Lincoln. Up to 60 percent of qualified applicants for the Lincoln division’s Bachelor of Science program are turned away annually; a new facility would allow the division to grow its enrollment by about 60 students, better meeting Nebraska’s workforce needs.

A new College of Nursing division in Lincoln is estimated to cost $17 million.

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