Gov. Dave Heineman has come up with a winner.
His proposal to give the University of Nebraska and state colleges a significant increase in state funding in return for a two-year freeze on in-state tuition is a smart way to serve the state’s interests.
Keeping the state system of higher education strong and up-to-date is essential for Nebraskans to have the opportunity to learn the skills that can help them succeed in today’s global economy.
There should be little doubt that the proposal will have popular appeal. In effect the proposal will reserve a significant portion of state revenue, defining the terms for the Legislature’s coming debate over budget issues.
Although some senators were leery of committing their support for the proposal, the prediction here is that senators will find it politically difficult to oppose the increase in university funding after several years in which funding remained relatively flat -- especially when it is coupled with a tuition freeze that will save the average student in the NU system about $1,000 during the next two years.
As UNL student Jose Lemus put it, “That would be awesome.”
Heineman’s budget will boost NU’s funding by 8.6 percent in 2015, from $498 million to $541 million, and funding for the Nebraska State College System by 9.1 percent, from $45.5 million to $49.6 million.
“In Nebraska, we understand that education is the great equalizer, and that’s why education is a priority for me,” Heineman said. “Investing in education is important to Nebraska’s future.”
NU President J.B. Milliken noted that Heineman’s budgets during his early years as governor had provided more generous support for higher education. When the national economy sagged, those increases disappeared. In fact, many NU officials were happy to escape the severe budget cuts that universities experienced in other states. Milliken said he felt the governor was returning to his original priorities.
Freezing tuition after several years in which that revenue source shouldered most of the burden of rising costs was a logical thing to do, Milliken said.
Tuition at UNL has gone up between 3.7 percent and 6 percent each year over the past five years. Since 2002, it has risen more than 92 percent. At state colleges, tuition has risen 5 percent each year for the past five years.
NU and the state college system are emerging from the recent economic downturn in better shape that colleges and universities in many states.
Heineman’s proposal will put them in position to continue to improve the quality of higher education in Nebraska. The proposal deserves legislative approval.