Good news: The University of Nebraska-Lincoln, in back-to-back years, graduated the two largest classes in its history.
Bad news: The University of Nebraska saw an enrollment decline at its flagship campus and a slight dip systemwide this fall.
Good news: Three other NU system campuses gained students this fall, and university leaders remain committed to ambitious enrollment expansion over the rest of the decade.
Make no mistake: The goals are lofty. They call for 30,000 students at UNL by 2017, and 20,000 students at the University of Nebraska at Omaha by 2020.
That compares with fall 2012 enrollment of 24,207 at UNL, down 1.6 percent from 2011, and with 14,788 at UNO, up 0.5 percent. Both the University of Nebraska at Kearney and the University of Nebraska Medical Center also showed gains; 1.4 percent to 7,199 at UNK, and 0.8 percent to 3,655 at UNMC.
There are a number of good reasons for the aggressive approach to boosting university enrollment — and for setting these high targets.
>> The future U.S. work force needs educated workers. According to a study last year by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, the United States will need 20 million more postsecondary-educated workers by 2025 to keep up with demand.
>> That research also found that by 2018, two-thirds of the jobs in Nebraska will require some college education.
>> A new Georgetown Center report, issued two weeks ago, found that almost half of the jobs lost in the recession that began in December 2007 have been recovered — and almost all of those required some postecondary education. “It is a tough job market for college graduates but far worse for those without a college education,” said Anthony P. Carnevale, the center director and co-author of the report.
Nebraska has both challenges and advantages in meeting these demands.
NU President J.B. Milliken has noted that Nebraska is experiencing flat to declining numbers of high school graduates and needs to increase its college-going rate. That’s true particularly among historically underpresented populations, he said, including first-generation, low-income and minority students.
Working in NU’s favor are the Board of Regents’ focus on affordable access for Nebraska students, tuitions that compare very favorably with peer institutions and initiatives such as the Collegebound Nebraska tuition assistance program.
In addition, the university is taking innovative approaches toward finding and recruiting new students. UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman says Nebraka’s membership in the Big Ten has generated lots of attention for the Big Red in other conference states, and recruiters are working in cities such as Minneapolis and Chicago.
Emphasis is being placed on international recruiting as well, and unofficial figures show an uptick in those students. Additionally, Milliken noted, the university’s Online Worldwide initiative now offers more than 130 degree, certification and endorsement programs.
Attracting 50,000 students to UNL and UNO by the end of the decade remains an ambitious goal — but an important and worthwhile one.