LINCOLN, Neb. (KMTV) — The University of Nebraska System announced that students from families in the low to middle income brackets will be able to attend the University of Nebraska tuition-free moving forward.
Called "Nebraska Promise", the program allows any Nebraska student with an annual family income of $60K, the state's median income, or less to attend the University of Nebraska tuition free.
"It’s essential," said Jim Pillen, the chair of the University of Nebraska system Board of Regents. "The solution for the future for kids is education. It’s transformative and it is the solution to make circumstances for the next generation better."
The Nebraska Promise free tuition program goes in to effect this fall. It applies to incoming, current and transfer students who are taking classes on campus or online at the system's three undergraduate campuses in Lincoln, Omaha and Kearney.
"It’s big for our families in Nebraska, our economy and our workforce development, we're really excited," Pillen said. "We are the best value and a tremendous education and we want to make sure people know they’re welcome back. We need to keep every one of our students in Nebraska. We need them to stay in Nebraska to get educated and we need them to stay in Nebraska in the workforce and we need them to raise their families in Nebraska. The impact of Nebraska promise for the future of our state is going to be immeasurable."
.@UofNE_President Carter: Today we're announcing a new step we're taking to provide hope to Nebraskans who may be struggling.— University of Nebraska (@u_nebraska) April 17, 2020
We're creating the Nebraska Promise: If you are an NE student w/ a family income of $60K or less, you can attend the University of Nebraska TUITION FREE. pic.twitter.com/jXLtsmEcYI
The decision comes amid budget challenges in higher education nationally during the coronavirus. NU System President Ted Carter said the economic hit is estimated at $50-million for this fiscal year. The university has placed a hiring freeze, paused capital projects and is holding pay raises. Everyone on campus is reducing spending by three-percent in the last quarter.
"Traditionally higher education does well in a recession but this is different from that," Carter said. "There’s going to be some economic impact. We’ve seen some loss of revenues just from loss of housing. Students made other choices for how they will fill out their academics. We promised to give them the full education they signed up for in terms of academics. We’ve kept that promise."
Carter said even with the hiring freeze, the campus will still hire positions as needed and will hire positions in areas that take care of students such as security, food services and janitorial services.
"Obviously we want to take care of faculty and staff but we haven’t gotten to the detail yet where we are talking about personnel or furlough," Carter said.
One of the capital projects in question is the Go Big Project, the $155-million 350,000 square feet athletic facility project that was set to kick off this summer. Carter said that a decision has not yet been made regarding this project.
"We’re taking them all case by case but the Go Big Project is certainly a big part of all that and that discussion is still ongoing right now," Carter said.
As well, an NU spokesperson said the schools haven't made any decisions on salaries of high-paying staff members and what actions might be necessary.
President Carter believes higher education is going to have to change. He thinks those universities who understand online learning will be best positioned for the future.
"As students have seen it’s doable," Carter said. "I think campuses that know how to do it well and do it right can enforce that. I think that is an important aspect of getting back to normal.
Carter said across the country higher education institutions are looking at enrollment drops of 15-percent. He said his office has been going through budget reductions and drills and hopes students are back in the classrooms by fall but are preparing for any eventuality.
"We are the best value and a tremendous education and we want to make sure people know they’re welcome back and we’ll do everything we can to keep faith with them," Carter said.
According to NU Regent Chair Pillen, the Nebraska Promise is planned for the long-term and not soley for 2020. It will only cover tuition and will not cover costs such as room and board.
Watch reporter Phil Bergman's story in the above video.