Speakers explore strategies for expanding college access in Nebraska.
For Sadid Carrillo, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln student from Schuyler, the path to college was not easy.


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Neither of his parents had gone to college, making him statistically less likely to pursue higher education himself. But his parents encouraged him nonetheless.

Some of Sadid’s high school peers seemed to be headed down the wrong path. He decided to separate himself from them and focus on his studies, and he went on to graduate ninth in his class.

The price of tuition, books and housing may at first have seemed out of reach for Sadid’s parents, both of whom work to support Sadid and his four younger siblings. But Sadid qualified for a significant amount of financial aid – including Collegebound Nebraska, which guarantees he will pay no tuition at the university – a federal Pell Grant, and other need-based aid.

In his first semester at UNL, Sadid struggled so much in chemistry that he considered dropping out. But thanks to encouragement from UNL’s financial aid director, Sadid instead changed his major to an area better suited to him – finance.

Sadid recently finished his sophomore year after spending a semester in Italy. He carries a 3.9 grade point average and less than $1,000 in college loans.

He now dreams of working as a loan officer at a bank – so he can help others realize their dreams as he is realizing his.

Sadid’s story puts a compelling human dimension on Nebraska’s goals for creating a culture of college access and increasing educational attainment in the state, according to University of Nebraska President James B. Milliken.

“Every college and university in Nebraska needs more students like Sadid – and it is our responsibility and our opportunity to make it possible for them to enjoy the benefits of higher education, and for our state to enjoy the benefits of a well-educated, highly talented workforce,” Milliken said during a keynote address at today’s College Access Summit, hosted by EducationQuest Foundation and the Nebraska P-16 Initiative. The P-16 Initiative is chaired by Gov. Dave Heineman, and Milliken is a co-chair.

The summit brought together leaders from Nebraska’s education, business and government sectors to explore strategies for expanding access to higher education and building a more educated workforce in the state.


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Gov. Heineman pointed out that his two priorities for Nebraska are education and job creation. To create the jobs of the future, Nebraska must increase its degree attainment – and doing so will require increased access, he said.

“Every single student in our state deserves a quality education,” the Governor said.

Collaboration between the public and private sectors will be critical to achieve success, Milliken said, and it’s important to engage other allies as well who can make a difference in students’ lives – teachers, parents, counselors, peers, policymakers, employers, clergy, faculty and others.

“Our message to them and to students must be consistent – that a college education is an essential component for success in a 21st-century knowledge-based economy,” Milliken said. “The Lumina Foundation has been a huge help in this regard.”

Lumina Foundation President and CEO Jamie Merisotis also spoke at the summit.

Merisotis noted that under the Governor’s leadership, support for higher education in Nebraska is strong. About 40.5 percent of adults in Nebraska hold at least an associate’s degree, slightly higher than the national average of 38 percent.

But Nebraska can’t become complacent, Merisotis warned.

“There’s still plenty of room for improvement,” he said. “In fact, despite this relative positioning, the simple fact is that improvement – significant improvement – is an absolute necessity if the state hopes to thrive.”


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Merisotis and Milliken both highlighted a recent Georgetown University study which found that Nebraska ranks seventh in the nation in the percentage of jobs in 2018 that will require education beyond high school.

Even though resources are increasingly limited, Nebraska must produce more college graduates if it hopes to be economically competitive, Merisotis said. (Merisotis’ full remarks are available here.)

The Lumina Foundation’s “Big Goal” is for 60 percent of Americans to have high-quality degrees or credentials by 2025. This parallels President Obama’s goal for America to regain the leadership position in the world in college attainment by 2020. The U.S. currently ranks 12th.

Nebraska P-16 goals include increasing the high school graduation rate to 90 percent, increasing the college-going rate to the top 10 nationally, providing affordable access to higher education, and improving time-to-degree completion at Nebraska’s postsecondary institutions.

The University of Nebraska is actively involved in achieving these goals, through initiatives such as:
  • Collegebound Nebraska, which allows qualified Nebraska students like Sadid to attend any of NU’s four campuses and pay no tuition. 
  • A number of privately funded financial aid programs, such as those offered through the Susan T. Buffett Foundation. In 2009-10, more than 11,200 scholarships were awarded to NU students from funds gifted to the University of Nebraska Foundation. Student support is the highest priority of the ongoing Campaign for Nebraska
  • Online Worldwide, which provides a high-quality NU education to students all over the world. Online Worldwide is especially targeted to the 265,000 Nebraskans who have completed some college but do not have a degree. Distance education in general will be an important strategy in expanding access to education for place-bound, non-traditional and other students, Milliken said. 
  • The College Preparatory Academy and KearneyBound! programs in Grand Island, Omaha, North Platte, Lexington and Kearney, which target promising low-income, first-generation high school students. The first wave of graduates of the programs just completed their freshmen years at UNL and the University of Nebraska at Kearney, where they have access to additional mentoring and support services to help them succeed. 
  • OnCourse, which eases the transition from community college to a four-year degree program. Through OnCourse, students at Nebraska community colleges who take certain core courses and maintain a 2.5 grade point average are guaranteed admission to NU. 
  • Renewed efforts to make a four-year degree at NU more attainable. 

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Milliken also urged summit attendees to contact their representatives in Congress in support of Pell Grants, which are the foundation of financial aid for tens of thousands of Nebraska college students. Cuts to the Pell program would have the greatest impact on students with the highest financial need, he said.
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