President’s Op-Ed: To grow Nebraska’s workforce, University will compete harder for talent

By Ted Carter
President, University of Nebraska System

This weekend 3,200 new graduates will earn degrees from the University of Nebraska’s campuses – our state’s next generation of nurses and doctors, farmers and ranchers, engineers and business leaders.

For all of us who serve in education, graduation is one of the most special times of year. Each new University of Nebraska alum is a success story – for themselves, our entire university, our state and our workforce. Their hard work is the very definition of what it means to be a Nebraskan.

The University of Nebraska is one of the most powerful drivers of workforce development in the state. Each year thousands of new alumni begin their careers in technology and the arts, healthcare and agriculture, business and public service. They live in every county in Nebraska, bringing good-paying jobs to our communities and starting companies that in turn create more economic development. They provide life-saving health care to our loved ones, they teach our children, they become CEOs and they grow the food we eat. No entity produces a skilled workforce on a scale like the University of Nebraska.

Proud as we are of our contributions to Nebraska’s economic growth, this is not the time to keep doing “more of the same.”

Nebraska urgently needs more workforce, and we need it as soon as possible.

We need to compete harder and smarter for talent. Our future economic success depends on it.

The statistics should be a call to action for every one of us. Roughly 80 percent of business owners in our state say a lack of workers is the biggest obstacle to growing their business, according to a new survey from the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce.

There are some 80,000 open jobs in Nebraska. Yet our unemployment rate is among the lowest in the nation.

What does that mean? Nebraskans work hard – no surprise there. But the vast majority of us who want a job are already working.

If we want to make a serious dent in filling those 80,000 open jobs, we need to grow our workforce by leaps and bounds. That includes keeping our home-grown talent here, and also attracting many more skilled workers to our state.

As a primary driver of workforce development for Nebraska, it’s the university’s job to help lead the way. Nebraska taxpayers, our Board of Regents and our elected leaders, including both Governor Ricketts and Governor-Elect Pillen, all rightly expect us to be focused on growth for the benefit of the state.

And if Nebraska is going to meaningfully grow its population base, the University of Nebraska System must be much more competitive for students, within our state and beyond.

I’m the first to say we are not satisfied with our current enrollment. We are not alone nationally in experiencing enrollment challenges. But it’s not the Nebraska way to settle for the status quo.

There’s no reason the University of Nebraska shouldn’t compete hard for every smart Nebraska kid – and for the highest-achieving Nebraska students, no institution should offer a better financial deal than the University of Nebraska.

Working with our teams and philanthropic partners, we’ll make it a priority to be more competitive on scholarships so that our smartest students stay here. Furthermore, we’ll work harder to increase scholarships and implement creative pricing strategies for out-of-state students so Nebraska is an even more attractive option for talented students looking for the combination of quality and value we know we offer.

All of us – education, private industry and the public sector – have a role to play in growing Nebraska’s workforce. It will take partnership to get it done. Growth at the University of Nebraska is not the only solution, but it is a crucial part. As we look ahead to a new year, we are ready to attack these challenges with renewed energy and urgency.

A growing University of Nebraska will be a win for our entire state.