New scholarship to support Nebraska students with top ACT scores

As part of a plan to compete more effectively for top talent, Gov. Jim Pillen, interim University of Nebraska President Chris Kabourek and Board of Regents representatives announced a new scholarship for the state’s top ACT scores.

The program will cover the total cost of undergraduate attendance, plus stipends, at any University of Nebraska campus.

“By aligning on this big idea, Gov. Pillen, President Kabourek and the Board of Regents are positioning the University of Nebraska–Lincoln to be more competitive nationally as we work to recruit, retain and graduate Nebraska’s best and brightest minds,” Chancellor Rodney D. Bennett said. “This scholarship program is a significant investment in Nebraskans, one that opens doors to the robust experience and boundless career opportunities available to students who graduate from Nebraska’s R1, Big Ten, flagship university.”

Beginning in the 2024-25 academic year, the Office of the President will fund the new Nebraska Presidential Scholars Program to cover tuition, fees, books, housing and all other costs of attendance, plus a $5,000 annual stipend, for any Nebraska student who scores a perfect 36 on the ACT.

“This is a simple, but powerful, message to our best and brightest young people — We want you on Team Nebraska,” said Gov. Pillen. “As I travel around the state and talk to business and community leaders, something I hear again and again is that we need to do a better job of competing for talent. With the Presidential Scholars Program, we’re going to compete. I’m proud to join with President Kabourek and the Board of Regents in putting this bold plan forward.”

Kabourek said the scholarship is part of NU’s response to Pillen’s challenge for state higher education leaders to work together to enroll more Nebraska students.

“The University of Nebraska needs to play a leading role and the Presidential Scholars Program is part of our answer to the governor’s call,” Kabourek said. “I’m embarrassed that so many of Nebraska’s best and brightest are leaving our state because they are enticed by more competitive offers. This new scholarship sends a strong message that we want these kids to stay in Nebraska and we are going to go compete for them.”

Kabourek said NU is launching a fundraising effort as part of the Only in Nebraska campaign to raise private funds to create a permanent Presidential Scholars endowment. Ultimately, the university’s goal is to provide total cost of attendance scholarships to all Nebraska students who score a 33 or above on the ACT.

“My message to every Nebraska student and every parent is that if you’re willing to work hard, the University of Nebraska will do everything we can to help you become the best version of yourself and get a great education that will prepare you for success,” Kabourek said.

On average over the past three years, about 600 Nebraska students a year score at least a 33, including about 30 who score a perfect 36. But less than half of those students enroll at the University of Nebraska, including only 22 percent of students with a 36.

The university’s goal is to enroll 80 percent of students who score a 33 or higher, Kabourek said. Furthermore, he said elite academic performers who choose the University of Nebraska should be celebrated the way student-athletes are, with signing ceremonies and public attention to signal Nebraska’s pride in retaining them in the state.

“When we say we want the University of Nebraska to compete, this is exactly what we mean. I am thrilled that we are taking bold action to keep more of Nebraska’s best and brightest here in our state,” said Tim Clare, Board of Regents chair. “This is a win for our university, for students, our workforce and Nebraska’s national profile.”

Rob Schafer, vice chair of the board, said the Presidential Scholars program is the right move to address Nebraska’s workforce challenges.

“I thank Gov. Pillen for his leadership in rallying all of us around this urgent issue, and I congratulate President Kabourek for his decisive action in sending a clear message to Nebraska’s talented young people that we want them to stay,” Schafer said.

The university is maintaining its Regents Scholarship, which covers full tuition costs for high academic performers, as well as its investment in need-based financial aid through the Nebraska Promise program, which provides free tuition for Nebraska students whose families earn $65,000 or less per year.

Kabourek, along with members of the Board of Regents, will join Pillen on a road show this spring to visit Nebraska high schools and community events to promote the Presidential Scholars Program and other opportunities at the university, encouraging students to stay in the state to earn their degrees and start their careers.

“Together as ‘One Nebraska’, we’re doing big things to create opportunities for the next generation — a new engineering facility in Lincoln to produce the future STEM workforce, a new health complex in Kearney to meet the healthcare needs of our rural communities, and a world-class medical center, just to name a few,” said Gov. Pillen. “The university is at its strongest when it’s focused on priorities that matter to Nebraskans.”

In traveling the state, Pillen and university leaders will also engage with business and community leaders about expanding internship and job opportunities for students through initiatives like Intern Nebraska.