Private colleges criticize governor's tuition freeze plan

2013-01-16T18:20:00Z 2013-01-16T19:37:04Z Private colleges criticize governor's tuition freeze planBy KEVIN ABOUREZK / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

An association of independent colleges and universities has criticized Gov. Dave Heineman’s proposal to increase funding to the University of Nebraska and the state’s colleges by $47 million during the next two years in exchange for a two-year tuition freeze.

The Association of Independent Colleges and Universities and Nebraska’s 14 member institutions said the proposal would fail to increase support to the 33,000 students who attend the state’s private, nonprofit colleges and universities. The association called for increased funding to a state scholarship program that provides financial aid to students in all sectors of higher education.

Thomas O'Neill, the association’s president, said the state's private schools don't oppose Heineman’s proposal but would like to see greater willingness among legislators and the governor to support students who decide to attend independent colleges.

“We support the appropriate role for public higher education in the state,” he said. “What we are concerned about is that students who attend independent colleges and universities in Nebraska receive less money now than they received in 2001-2002.”

He said students attending independent colleges received $3.9 million in state financial aid then, compared with a little more than $3 million last year. Heineman has proposed increasing funding to the Nebraska Opportunity Grant Program, the primary source of state funds for independent colleges, by $1 million.

“While we thank the governor for his proposed $1 million increase for the program, we believe it is far too little,” O’Neill said.

Melissa Lee, spokeswoman for NU, said Heineman’s proposal would benefit those attending NU and the three state colleges, as well as Nebraska.

“It is surprising that any education leader would take issue with a strategy to make higher education more accessible for Nebraskans,” she said. “Our proposal would have a tremendous impact on students and families in the state, and from the feedback we’ve received, we believe Nebraskans agree.”

O’Neill said his association was asking state policymakers to focus resources for higher education on improving graduation rates, especially among low-income, first-generation students and minorities.

Although private, nonprofit colleges and universities awarded more than 41 percent of all degrees in 2010-11, they received just 0.3 percent of total state taxpayer funds for higher education in Nebraska.

“We believe that colleges and universities in all public and nonprofit sectors should be eligible to compete for funding and that Nebraska should reward institutions that are successful in helping Nebraska achieve its higher education goals,” O’Neill said.

Fred Ohles, president of Nebraska Wesleyan University, said neighboring states tend to award far more funding than Nebraska to scholarship programs that support students wherever they decide to attend college. With a higher graduation rate than UNL, Wesleyan would benefit from a modified higher education funding system that rewarded performance, Ohles said.

“I would like to see the state of Nebraska, through the Legislature, increase the attention to college completion and not just college entry,” he said.

Reach Kevin Abourezk at 402-473-7225 or kabourezk@journalstar.com.

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