In his State of the University address delivered Tuesday, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Ronnie Green laid out an ambitious vision for Nebraska’s flagship college.
The speech detailed record enrollment this year and an aspirational goal to enroll more than 30,000 students by 2025. Other future aims discussed included keeping college affordable for Nebraskans and growing the university’s diversity efforts.
But the announcement that Green plans to pursue as much as $8.5 million in additional cuts next year – beyond those previously publicized – to prepare UNL for future budget crunches is at odds with a university focused on growth.
These two things, growing the university and continuing to cut millions of dollars, are fast approaching a point where they become mutually exclusive.
For the University of Nebraska system to remain the economic driver – a $3.9 billion economic impact across its five campuses – Nebraskans take for granted, a further lack of funding will have more adverse effects on those outcomes. Less is not more, and organizations cannot cut themselves into prosperity.
The Nebraska Legislature reduced $13 million from NU’s funding. That compounded $36 million in increased costs, including to salary and benefits packages, the state’s Regents institutions faced entering this school year. UNL alone is identifying how to cut $11 million this year and $6 million next year, while also raising tuition rates in both years. But that’s before Green’s plan to seek even deeper reductions in spending.
Meanwhile, Nebraska faces the prospect of additional declines in its tax receipts, following recent reports that fell short of even the downward revisions. These anticipated revenue declines no doubt prompted Green to proactively hunt for additional cost savings that he said will affect the university’s academic programs.
With other looming funding questions at the Capitol in light of negative trends, this is no doubt a difficult time to be a state senator. Not every entity can be fully funded, despite their worthy goals – including NU.
But few have as large and wide-ranging of a positive impact, one that stretches from border to border, as the University of Nebraska. The direct and indirect benefit of university education and research serves urban and rural residents, businesses and schools alike.
In his remarks Tuesday, Green said: “How to budget through a downturn in the state economy at the same time you have this momentum and this growth that is happening at the university, that’s the challenge we have.”
Indeed, Nebraska’s lawmakers and institutions of higher learning face a steep challenge heading into uncertain financial times. But each funding cut brings the state’s Regents campuses closer to deciding to continue their critical mission or reducing their statewide impact.