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Nebraska higher ed leaders cringe over new proposed cuts

Nebraska higher ed leaders cringe over new proposed cuts
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Nebraska higher education leaders cringed this week over new budget cuts proposed by Gov. Pete Ricketts.

State tax money continues to slump, cries for property tax cuts are ongoing and most state agencies would endure across-the-board trims under Ricketts’ plan.

“A cut of this magnitude would make it difficult for us to remain affordable for our 53,000 students and meet the workforce and economic needs of the state,” University of Nebraska President Hank Bounds said in a written statement.

Public higher education in Nebraska has three prongs — the NU system, the state college system and the community colleges. The NU system receives about $560 million in general fund money from the state, the three state colleges a total of about $51 million and the six community colleges a total of close to $100 million.

Under Ricketts’ proposal, all three would take a 2 percent midyear cut this year. In 2018-19, NU and the state colleges would take a 4 percent reduction from the original amount set last spring and the community colleges a 3 percent cut.

Higher education took a midyear cut last year as well. NU’s was about 2.3 percent and the two other systems about 4 percent.

Stan Carpenter, head of the state college system, said in a written statement, in part: “Our colleges are essential to workforce development and Nebraska’s rural economy, and continued reductions will weaken the foundation that has been put in place.” The state colleges are in Wayne, Peru and Chadron.

The Nebraska Legislature’s Appropriations Committee will make its own recommendations to the full Legislature. This year’s session concludes in mid-April.

A new state revenue forecast will be made at the end of February.

Greg Adams, who speaks for most of the two-year colleges, said he understands that the state has a financial challenge.

“Just like we did last year, we’ll do all that we can, but you reach a point where it’s pretty difficult to keep tuition down, keep property taxes down … and handle the cuts,” Adams said.

Ricketts spokesman Luke Robson said: “Just like Nebraska households, state government must live within its means. The governor’s budget recommendations leave generous funding for higher education in Nebraska. Higher education is treated fairly in the governor’s budget proposal.”

Mike Baumgartner, head of the Nebraska Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education, said he hopes state revenues pick up.

“The ramifications for access and affordability are pretty clear, and we would hope the state could find some way to mitigate this,” Baumgartner said. “The state’s support has been the main pillar underlying the relatively affordable tuition that Nebraska students have enjoyed.”

Baumgartner paused.

“I wish I had something more positive to say,” he said, “but I don’t.”

rick.ruggles@owh.com, 402-444-1123, twitter.com/rickruggles

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