Krist blames Ricketts for tuition hikes, cut programs at NU
Deep cuts proposed to Nebraska’s higher education system by Gov. Pete Ricketts have resulted in increased tuition and lost opportunities for students, state Sen. Bob Krist said Tuesday.
The Democratic gubernatorial nominee blamed the Republican incumbent for cuts to the University of Nebraska and other educational institutions that have added financial pressure on Nebraska families.
“In my opinion, Gov. Ricketts is probably the worst governor in history with regards to higher education in the state,” Krist said at a morning news conference in the Haymarket.
Krist attacked the governor for proposing several rounds of cuts to NU’s state appropriations:
* Ricketts asked NU to cut 2.3 percent, or about $13.3 million, in 2016-17, which was less than the 4 percent cut recommended for other state agencies.
* The governor withheld 2 percent, or $11.4 million, of NU’s state appropriation in the 2017-18 school year resulting in further cuts.
* A mid-year budget proposal recommended another 4 percent cut to NU, representing about $23.2 million, for the 2018-19 school year. The Legislature later approved a 1 percent cut to NU.
The cuts have forced the NU Board of Regents to raise tuition each of the last two years and prompted the board to authorize President Hank Bounds to enact a further tuition hike for the second semester of this school year if Ricketts withholds funding for a third straight year.
At the same time, NU has enacted more than $30 million in administrative cuts to nonacademic programs in order to close the budget gap created by the loss in state aid, as well as increases to health insurance, utilities and other operational costs.
In response to the latest round of cuts to NU’s state aid, however, university leaders closed several academic and athletic units at its campuses in Lincoln, Omaha and Kearney, eliminating staff members in the process.
Krist said Ricketts was responsible for the loss of opportunity to Nebraska students, as well as for ballooning tuition costs.
“He is out of touch with the hardworking families of Nebraska who care deeply about their university and college systems,” Krist said.
Matthew Trail, the director of communications for the Ricketts campaign, called Krist’s attacks “ridiculous and hyperbolic.”
Ricketts recommended increases to NU’s state appropriation in his first two years until a revenue shortfall forced state agencies “to tighten their belts.”
The 4 percent cut Ricketts recommended for NU’s state aid represented less than 1 percent of the university’s total operating budget, Trail said, according to the Legislature’s most-recent budget book, “at a time when state agencies have made much deeper cuts.”
NU’s operating budget is funded through state appropriations and tuition revenue.
In comparison, Trail said, the Nebraska Department of Agriculture absorbed a 9.3 percent budget cut and the Nebraska Department of Economic Development’s budget was slashed by 8.6 percent in 2018.
“The university could have chosen cuts in areas not directly impacting students,” Trail said. “For instance, the university might have evaluated high administrative salaries, which have jumped by roughly 40 percent since 2011, while enrollment has grown by only roughly 6 percent in that period.”
An NU spokeswoman said the growth in administrative salaries is tied to new programs across the university, including the Buffett Cancer Center in Omaha, the National Strategic Research Institute, and the Health Science Complex in Kearney.
Enrollment growth requires more student support staff, the university said, while research growth requires more lab technicians, for example.
And those costs are significantly below other comparable institutions, according to NU.
“It’s disappointing that the governor’s campaign would make this claim when we’ve already addressed it a number of times,” said Melissa Lee, a spokeswoman for Bounds. “The president is trying to reach the governor to understand why.”
Krist said, if elected, he would work to expand dual-credit programs for high school students looking to earn college credit, while also securing funding for both NU and the Nebraska State College System in order to prevent “brain drain,” or young Nebraskans leaving the state.
He said his administration would prioritize education, reflecting what he hears from Nebraskans on the campaign trail.