Dale Kruse

Southeast Community College is committed to its mission of providing a qualified workforce in career and technical fields and affordable access to higher education.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, in his inaugural address, stated, “We must strengthen our education system. We must make sure our young people have the skills they need to compete in a 21st-century global economy and in particular career and vocational training. Every manufacturer I’ve spoken to has told me they can’t find enough skilled labor and it’s a barrier to them expanding in our state.”

In 2015, SCC implemented a five-year strategic plan to improve the college’s capacity to fulfill its mission and meet the workforce, student and community needs throughout its 15-county service area. The strategic plan included the college’s first Facilities Master Plan, which was recently commended by the college’s regional accrediting body.

The college is required to comply with accreditation criteria, including the need to have sufficient facilities infrastructure to support its operations. The plan identified more than $350 million of needs and recommended most facilities be replaced. SCC attempted a bond election in 2016, which did not pass.

Community colleges in Nebraska have three primary sources of funding: state aid, tuition and fees and property tax. Of all property taxes levied in Nebraska, community colleges account for approximately 5 percent of the total.

Each college has a maximum rate of 11.25 cents per $100 valuation, with 9.25 cents available for general fund and 2 cents for capital projects. While the other community colleges have been at their maximum capital authority for many years, SCC has historically used very little of this authority and has had the lowest total levy.

The Board of Governors carefully considers local needs, budgetary factors, tax impact, internal and external data, and the importance of stewardship and accountability.

With SCC’s facility needs still remaining, its Board of Governors recently approved a 0.95-cent increase in the capital tax levy to move forward on a much smaller scale with the following facility projects: a diesel technology facility in Milford, health science facility in Lincoln, general purpose classroom building in Beatrice, and a learning center in Falls City. Although the four projects represent only a fraction of the dozens of projects identified in the master plan, their construction will allow the college to increase capacity to meet employer, student and community needs.

Following the recently approved increase, SCC’s levy rate of 9.07 cents per $100 valuation is more than 2 cents below its 11.25-cent authority and is the second-lowest among community colleges in the state. In addition to its capital tax authority, SCC will be seeking alternative sources of funding to modernize its facilities, including privately raised dollars and public-private partnerships.

SCC produces more than 1,500 graduates in a wide range of career and technical programs each year. Nearly 90 percent of SCC graduates remain in Nebraska and contribute to the economy by paying income, property and sales taxes. Employers depend on these graduates to strengthen their businesses.

However, many programs have waiting lists and inadequate learning spaces, and there continues to be a gap between the demand for qualified workers and the college’s capacity to produce graduates in high-demand fields such as health sciences, manufacturing, construction, welding, agriculture, automotive and diesel technology, and information technology.

According to a 2013 economic impact study, the effect SCC’s former students have on the regional economy is $650 million in annual added income. For every $1 spent by taxpayers on funding SCC, the taxpayers gain $4.10 in taxes and public sector savings from the higher wages earned by SCC graduates. This is an average annual return on investment of 12.3 percent.

SCC’s mission is to ensure everyone has access to higher education and the opportunities that come with new skills and knowledge. Higher education is an equalizer for continual improvement in quality of life. Property taxes are critical to keeping tuition affordable and education accessible for all and to meeting the demand for skilled workers.

Dale Kruse is chair of the Southeast Community College Board of Governors. He lives in Beatrice.

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