Like so much else in 2020, the unveiling of Ted Carter's five-year strategy for growing the University of Nebraska was put on hold because of the coronavirus.
But the pandemic didn't scrap the new NU president's plan completely.
Instead, the once-in-a-lifetime event, plus the renewed activism around issues of social justice, helped Carter and NU focus the thinking about the role the university plays in the state, who it serves and what its future may look like.
"The pandemic has required us to think differently about everything," Carter said Friday during a meeting of the NU Board of Regents held at Nebraska Innovation Campus.
It's forced a reexamination of how higher education is delivered to students, the costs of doing so, how its employees work, as well as what campus life looks like, among a multitude of other things.
On Friday, the conversations that have taken place during a "moment of challenge" throughout the first seven months of Carter's tenure as NU's top administrator were made public for the first time.
Carter said the five-year strategy, an outline of NU's highest ambitions as an institution, will plot how the university responds to the new world being created by COVID-19 while charting a path for future growth.
"This is a state that's primed and ready to grow, and I want to do that through the University of Nebraska," he said.
Centered around five broader strategies — student success, workforce development, diversity and inclusion, partnerships, and efficiency and effectiveness — Carter called on NU to have "a bias for action" in its approach to the future.
"The institutions that will succeed are the ones who are flexible, adapt and do things differently," Carter said. "The University of Nebraska is going to be among them."
Access, affordability and attainment
In April, Carter announced the Nebraska Promise, which provides tuition-free education to Nebraska students from families with annual household incomes of less than $60,000.
A few months later, Carter said tuition would be reduced for students taking classes online and said he is planning to enact a two-year tuition freeze for students in the 2021-22 and 2022-23 school years, while also evaluating other costs the university charges students.
As part of his five-year plan, Carter said he wants NU to adopt "a true four-year undergraduate graduation guarantee," where students on track to earn 120 credit hours over four years will graduate on time.
Those who don't graduate in four years because of troubles with course scheduling or other administrative reasons will have the cost of their tuition covered beyond their fourth year, Carter said.
"This is not just getting to a higher graduation rate," he said. "This is about putting our money where our mouth is."
Carter said Friday he also wants NU to explore shifting from a "per credit hour" tuition model to a "block" tuition model, where full-time students would pay the same tuition rate no matter if they take 12 or 18 credit hours per semester.
The block model is intended to incentivize students to take more classes and graduate sooner, but critics of the model say it disproportionately affects lower-income students, students who work while going to school and students with disabilities.
A spokeswoman said the details of what a block tuition model would look like at NU — including at what the semester price would be set — are still being explored.
NU's new president also said he will reengage with the P-16 initiative, which partners K-12 and higher education to encourage students to think about their education beyond high school and would work on transfer agreements with other institutions in Nebraska.
Carter said NU will pursue partnerships with policymakers to expand funding for scholarships in key workforce areas, develop scholarship programs to attract out-of-state students to Nebraska and connect with the private sector to guarantee more internships, jobs and debt forgiveness programs.
While 80% of college-bound Nebraska students attend one of NU's campuses, Carter said the key to growing the state's workforce is incentivizing students from outside the state to come here with a new scholarship program.
"If I was a student living in any state outside Nebraska, and I was thinking about attending my home state university and paying tuition of $50,000, I want them to take a good look at Nebraska," Carter said. "You can come here with this scholarship program to one of our four campuses for less than one-fifth that cost."
Culture, diversity and inclusion
NU will develop an implicit bias training program to reach every employee, and conduct annual climate surveys to ensure its campuses are welcoming places for all students and employees, Carter said.
"A growing, thriving university depends on the voices, the ideas and success of all members of our community," he said. "We must be a university for everyone."
He also said NU would not add any new non-faculty positions using state funds until the faculty salaries at UNL and UNMC — the university system's two non-unionized campuses — reach their peer averages.
UNL's faculty are paid, on average, 8.4% less than faculty at their peer institutions — which include the University of Colorado, University of Iowa and the University of Minnesota — while UNMC's faculty are paid 2.9% less on average than faculty at comparable institutions.
Carter said NU will also strive to reduce gender and racial equity pay gaps among its employees.
The president's plan aims to focus university investments in areas where NU has already seen success: water and food security, infectious disease, rural community vitality, national and cyber security, and early childhood education.
Carter said NU will also attempt to increase not only its total private support to $300 million annually, but also the number of donors giving to the university to 75,000 by 2027.
Efficiency and effectiveness
Finally, Carter said NU would find ways to better manage its assets by developing a five-year rolling budget that is structurally balanced, writing a university-wide master plan for its facilities, infrastructure and information technology needs.
"Nebraskans expect their university to operate with common-sense improvements," he said. "We won't spend money we don't have. We'll take care of the resources we do have. And we'll continually look for opportunities to become leaner, more effective and more efficient."
Included in his plan is the creation of a "Red Tape Review" initiative geared at "combating bureaucracy" and reviewing policies that hinder progress for students and employees.
Carter said NU will also "set and achieve" a university-wide sustainability goal.
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