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Regents OK budget request seeking 2% more in state aid
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Regents OK budget request seeking 2% more in state aid

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While it anticipates the need to cut $43 million from its budget over the next three years, the University of Nebraska will ask the Legislature to boost its funding by 2% over the next two-year budget cycle.

The NU Board of Regents approved the two-year budget request Friday, which would add about $12.5 million to NU's taxpayer-funded appropriation in both 2021-22 and 2022-23.

President Ted Carter said while NU continues to respond to ongoing financial stress created by the coronavirus pandemic, he wants the university system to be in a position to emerge stronger when the public health crisis subsides.

"This modest increase reflects the university's commitment to being a good partner to the governor, Appropriations Committee Chairman John Stinner, and the Legislature as they work through fiscal challenges at the state level," Carter said.

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Additionally, NU is seeking $2 million in Nebraska Career Scholarship funding, a program announced by Gov. Pete Ricketts and state higher education leaders earlier this year that was included in the budget package state lawmakers finalized earlier this month.

The Career Scholarship, which provides funds for students at NU as well as across the Nebraska State College System pursuing careers in areas deemed critical to Nebraska's workforce, begins this year.

If lawmakers fund the request in full next year, NU would receive $628.3 million in 2021-22 and $642.9 million in 2022-23. The university system, with its campuses in Lincoln, Omaha, Kearney and the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture in Curtis, will receive $616.4 million this year.

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Carter said Friday the request is a continuation of a three-year budget plan he presented in June, which calls for $43 million in cuts following revenue losses caused by the pandemic.

Regents approved trimming 0.2% from the university's state-aided budget for 2020-21, and Carter said campus chancellors were preparing to engage their respective shared governance processes to begin looking for more cuts.

But, the new president added, he wants the university to continue moving forward while that takes place. The budget proposal, which includes a proposed two-year tuition freeze, will do that.

NU budget will remain flat this year as $43M in cuts loom on the horizon

"The proposed request prioritizes affordability and access for Nebraska students, limits spending growth to basic operations, and creates long-term opportunities to invest in campus and systemwide priorities like student success, faculty salaries, diversity and inclusion, and facility maintenance," Carter said.

The board approved the request 8-0. It will be submitted to the Nebraska Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education for approval before going before the Legislature in January.

In other business:

* Regents approved requests to state lawmakers seeking an extension of $11 million in state appropriations to address deferred maintenance needs through 2050, as well as to increase the fund by $2 million in 2021-22 and $4 million in 2022-23.

Those funds would be matched by existing university funds.

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Carter said the request is part of a broader university facilities plan that is both "pragmatic and sustainable" for decades to come. NU's facilities represent about 70% of the total state building assets.

* The board also gave its approval for a plan to provide up to $16.5 million from an internal lending program to NU's Information Technology Services, or ITS, to purchase new equipment.

The lending program was created in 2019 with $14 million in savings from a bond refinancing as well as $36 million in recaptured debt service. To date, it has helped fund several small infrastructure projects across NU, as well as a handful of larger projects, including the "Go Big" football facility project in Lincoln.

Chris Kabourek, NU's vice president for business and finance, said the lending program will allow ITS to pay for the new equipment up front, which will help the university achieve savings.

ITS will repay the loan from its annual budget over the next 6-8 years with 4% interest, which will help replenish the fund and pay for further projects.

* Out-of-state students seeking to go to NU will now be able to use their grade-point average to apply for scholarships, after the regents adopted a policy change.

Previously, nonresident students applying for aid at UNL, UNO, UNK or UNMC could only qualify if they ranked in the top 25% of their high school class or had scored a 23 or higher on the ACT.

Regents adopted a change that would allow high school students to submit a minimum 3.0 GPA in their scholarship application.

Carter said the new policy reflects changes in school districts across the country that no longer calculate class ranks, as well as disruption to college-entrance exams such as the ACT and SAT.

UNK student Regent Max Beal said he believes the change will expand opportunities to students to come to Nebraska.

"I think this will put us in a strong position to continually recruit and better accommodate high-quality students to come to the state of Nebraska," Beal said.

Lincoln Regent Tim Clare said once those nonresident students arrive in Nebraska, the university system needs to work with businesses and other sectors to ensure students can find internships and jobs upon graduation in an effort to grow the state.

* In observing social distancing guidelines during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Friday's meeting took place in the Nebraska Innovation Campus Conference Center. Regents, NU staff and seats for the public were spaced apart in the former Nebraska State Fair's 4-H Building.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7120 or cdunker@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @ChrisDunkerLJS

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