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Heineman announces plan to freeze tuition

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Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman

Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman

Resident tuition at Nebraska's public universities and colleges would be frozen for two years under a proposal announced Monday by Gov. Dave Heineman.

Tuition would be frozen for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years at the University of Nebraska's four campuses in Lincoln, Omaha and Kearney and at state colleges in Wayne, Peru and Chadron.

The plan is subject to approval by the Legislature.

“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. It is also critical that our post-secondary institutions manage their resources efficiently to control their costs.”

NU President J.B. Milliken said the average student in the university system will save $1,000 over the two years through the tuition freeze.

Heineman said the state will increase NU's funding from $498 million to $541 million in fiscal 2015 to make up the difference. Funding for the state college system will increase from $45.5 million to $49.6 million.

Earlier this year, the NU Board of Regents voted to increase tuition by 3.75 percent for the 2012-13 school year. The tuition increase -- the lowest since 1997 -- amounts to $94 to $116 more per semester for resident undergraduate students taking 15 credit hours, depending on which campus they attend.

NU has two revenue sources for general operations: state appropriations and tuition. It has kept its average tuition increases below 5.5 percent for the past seven years; four-year institutions nationwide have imposed average tuition increases of 7 percent.

NU has made $75 million in budget cuts during the past decade, and the Legislature has provided essentially flat funding for the past five years.

Milliken praised Heineman, saying that "state support is crucial to sustaining the priorities of a great University of Nebraska system -- including affordable access to high-quality education.

"The investment recommended by the governor will put us in a strong position to continue to serve Nebraskans, and I am grateful for his leadership in recognizing the important role higher education plays in economic competitiveness," Milliken said.

Stan Carpenter, chancellor of the state college system, echoed Milliken's comments.

“It is good for our students; it is good for our colleges; and it is good for Nebraska," he said. "Our student body at the state colleges will save over $1 million the first year when compared to an average tuition increase. Students can graduate on time with less debt. This compact with the state is an important step in assuring that our three colleges can continue to provide thousands of opportunities.”

In 2009, Nebraska reorganized its preschool through college (P-16) initiative to strengthen education for Nebraska students.

Resident tuition for most students at NU's flagship campus in Lincoln is $216 a credit hour. That makes annual tuition for a resident student carrying 15 hours of classes a semester $6,480. In addition, that student pays an average $1,504 a year in fees and $9,122 in room and board (if living on campus), for an annual total of $17,106.

Milliken said the tuition freeze will help NU attract more students.

"I do think sticker price and overall cost has an impact," he said.

Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha said the plan sounded good on initial review.

"We all share concern about rising college tuition. As a member of the Appropriations Committee -- in years where the governor cut the university or held them flat -- I have been a champion of increasing their fund as much as we can," he said. "We will take the governor’s suggestion and review it within the appropriations process."

Reach Kevin O'Hanlon at 402-473-2682 or kohanlon@journalstar.com.
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