By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog
LINCOLN — Gov. Dave Heineman wants his two-year budget proposal to include a $47-million increase in higher education funding that would enable state colleges and universities to freeze tuition for Nebraska students for two years.
The governor on Monday announced that he has agreed to a compact that would increase the University of Nebraska’s state appropriation from $498 million to $541 million in 2015 and the Nebraska State College System’s funding from $45.5 million to $49.6 million in fiscal year 2015.
“In Nebraska, we understand that education is the great equalizer and that’s why education is a priority for me,” Heineman said. “My priorities are education and jobs.”
If the Legislature agrees to the governor’s recommendation, university and state colleges would freeze tuition for Nebraska students attending University of Nebraska-Lincoln, University of Nebraska-Kearney, University of Nebraska at Omaha, Chadron State, Wayne State and Peru State for 2013-14 and 2014-15.
University of Nebraska President James B. Milliken said the proposal would save the typical student about $1,000 over the two years. Stan Carpenter, chancellor of the Nebraska State College System, said it would save his student body more than $2 million, perhaps allowing students to graduate earlier and with less debt.
Milliken said state funding has been essentially flat for about five years, and that’s not sustainable. He said he has talked to Board of Regents members, who would have to approve the tuition freeze, about the proposal and expects them to support it.
The governor would not say how he would pay for the measure when there’s a projected $200 million budget shortfall, saying the state “didn’t have any problem” handling a $1 billion budget shortfall two years ago and that the shortfall is just a projection. He will release more details during his State of the State speech on Jan. 15.
While other states slashed higher education funding 10 percent to 15 percent during the recession, Nebraska maintained flat funding, but Heineman quoted Milliken as saying, “Flat was good, but not forever.”
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