Nebraska Gov. Urges University To Increase Enrollment

This story was written by Chris Rosacker, Daily Nebraskan
During talk of property tax cuts, tax incentives and road construction allocations, Gov. Dave Heineman called for more accountability, more integration and more efficient higher-education institutions during Tuesday's State of the State address.

"The University of Nebraska is a key component to Nebraska's future, and they must redefine their priorities to reflect the education and financial challenges of the 21st century," Heineman said.

Regarding accountability, University of Nebraska President J.B. Miliken speculated the governor was referring to cost pressures.

"We kind of view ourselves as accountable already," said Ron Withem, University of Nebraska director of government relations.

Heineman said the key is increased enrollment which would result in tuition revenue growth. This is especially important in Nebraska's tight state budget, he added.

This is one area where the university is in line with the governor, Withem said.

The Nebraska Board of Regents has set a goal to increase enrollment by 1.5 percent annually.

The University of Nebraska system experienced its highest enrollment levels in the mid-1990s, and while enrollment has increased in the past couple of years, Withem said there is some capacity for additional enrollment.

Miliken said if the upward trend in enrollment were to cease, it wouldn't necessarily equate to an increase in tuition costs.

The governor also called on higher education institutions to be more cooperative.

Withem was unsure exactly what Heineman meant by this, but said he was supportive of the general notion of cooperation.

"If (the governor) would like to begin a dialogue," he said, "we would be more than interested to participate."

Withem said the implementation of a new Student Information System would be one step toward more cooperation.

The Student Information System is the main computer system used to oversee the interface between the university and its students, said Walter Weir, chief information officer at the University of Nebraska.

For this, Heineman has recommended a $10 million "down payment" toward the total $22 million the University of Nebraska has projected for first year costs of implementing the new system.

Weir said the system oversees class registration, housing information, degree audits, recruiting and administration of financial records, among other things.

"It is absolutely critical to carrying out the mission of the university," he said.

The system the university system uses is outdated and will no longer be available through the provider, said Weir.

"Not replacing it isn't really even an option," he said. "We can't take the risk of having this system fail."

Although Heineman's $10 million recommendation is $6 million less than requested, it's better than nothing, acknowledged both Weir and Withem.

"That's one of the gratifying things," said Miliken. "It's quite clear the governor recognizes the need for this."
© 2008 Daily Nebraskan via U-WIRE
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