Keeping college affordable


By Cassie Wade

In a recent letter to the University of Nerbaska at Omaha community, university president Hank Bounds tackled one of the questions weighing most heavily on college students and their families’ minds: Is the cost of a four-year university worth the investment?

According to Bounds, the answer is yes, especially when you consider all of the opportunities a student who has pursued higher education will have over an employee without a college degree.

“More than 70 percent of jobs in our state will soon require higher education,” Bounds said. “For an individual, that in-vestment means the opportunity to dis-cover a new passion or career path, to learn from faculty who are experts in their fields, to earn $1 million more over a life-time than a high school graduate.”

While it is clear investing in a degree will help students build a better future for themselves, making higher education affordable and accessible to all can be a bit of a challenge.

As Bounds mentions in his letter tuition increases have been a reality almost every year in recent memory, despite the fact UNO’s tuition rates are 25 percent below average.

These tuition hikes have been necessary so the university can continue to fund day-to-day activities, like maintaining classrooms and paying faculty, but has also caused higher education to be placed further out of reach for low income students.

“Everyone, regardless of socioeconomic background, should have access to higher education,” Director of Financial Support and Scholarships Marty Habrock said. “A former colleague used to say that the luck of birth should not be the discriminat-ing factor of who gets to go to college. I wholeheartedly agree with that belief.”

In an effort to provide low income students with the resources needed to access higher education, UNO offers several different types of need-based aid and scholarships from a variety of sources including federal, state, institutional and private aid.

Habrock said that one of the best examples of aid available to students in the University of Nebraska school system is the Collegebound Nebraska program, which is a program that provides Pell Grant eligible Nebraska residents with financial aid to cover the full cost of their tuition.

While need-based aid programs and scholarships are helping more than 50 percent of UNO undergraduates gain access to the financial resources needed to pursue higher education, Bounds said an unmet need remains, which is why he recently announced a new $200 million initiative called, “Our Students, Our Future.”

The new initiative will provide students with scholarships, support services and student-centered capitol projects in an effort to help “produce more graduates to meet Neb.’s workforce needs.”

Finally, Bounds also mentioned the $84 million in budget cuts that have been made since 2000 as “the final component to maintaining affordability.”

“Like any Nebraska family or business, we must make tough choices about how we use our dollars,” Bounds said. “We will continue to look for efficiencies to make sure we are responsible stewards of the resources Nebraskans entrust to us.”