When the Nebraska State Legislature debated making cuts in the State Budget to the University of Nebraska system, Don Walton, responded by writing an opinion column in the Lincoln Journal Star newspaper. In his article, he described certain opponents of the budgetary cuts as arguing that the cuts would be “draconian and deeply damaging both to the university and to the state, a cut so deep that it would reverse the university’s upward trajectory and leave permanent scar tissue.” To be sure, I have received e-mails which echo similar sentiments. Therefore, I would like to set the record straight about the budgetary cuts which have been made to the University of Nebraska system.
The University of Nebraska system began the year with a budget of $583 million. The colleges took a mid-year cut of $13 million. The final budget passed by the Nebraska State Legislature carved out another $10 million in cuts. Then, the Governor’s line item veto took another $5.8 million away from the Universities, but spread it out over two years. So, the University of Nebraska system took a total of $26 million in cuts this year.
Last Thursday the Regents of the University of Nebraska approved budgetary cuts estimated at $30 million, which was enough to cover all of these budgetary cuts. At the same time they approved a 5.4 percent tuition increase for the 2017-2018 school year, and another 3.2 percent tuition increase for the 2018-2019 school year.
So, why did the Regents approve these tuition rate hikes? One reason for the tuition rate hikes was to pay for the salary raises approved for the administrators of these schools. For instance, University of Nebraska President, Hank Bounds, received a 6.3 percent salary increase last September, raising his salary from $480,000 to $510,000. Meanwhile, the chancellors each received three percent increases in their salaries. Finally, Hank Bounds’ most recent proposal included a 1.75 percent increase in the NU salary pool for faculty, with increases based upon merit.
On April 3, 2017 University President, Hank Bounds, said that the Legislature’s proposed budgetary cuts would hurt the University of Nebraska’s ability to attract new students and retain faculty. However, last week he projected enrollment to increase by one percent. President Bounds also vowed to trim more than 100 positions from the University of Nebraska system without eliminating any faculty positions.
The fact of the matter is that the University of Nebraska system has been bloated with an abundance of fat available for trimming. According to Nebraska State Sen. Tom Briese of Albion, the University of Nebraska system has been operating at a rate which is 34 percent higher than the national average for public universities.
The University of Nebraska system has plenty of room to make budgetary cuts without eliminating faculty positions or compromising the integrity of its degree programs. For instance, in the past each college has had its own IT center. However, going forward these IT centers will be consolidated into one center, which will serve the entire University of Nebraska system. Besides information technology, similar kinds of cuts will also be made in human resources, financial operations, and travel.
Although the Board of Regents approved tuition rate increases for each of the schools in the University of Nebraska system, the colleges will remain affordable and competitive. Once these tuition rate hikes go into effect, the University of Nebraska will continue to remain a bargain compared to the other Big Ten universities. By way of comparison, the University of Nebraska will continue to rank within the 40th percentile of Big Ten universities.
It has been my pleasure to serve the people of District 47 this year in the Nebraska State Legislature. Now that the Legislative Session has finally come to a close, I thank you for the opportunity to have represented you. Moreover, I look forward to doing much more to bring relief to your property tax burden.