Calling the University of Nebraska’s commitment to accessibility more important than ever during difficult economic times, President Ted Carter unveiled a new program on April 17 that will guarantee a tuition-free NU education to Nebraska students with family incomes of $60,000 or less.

The “Nebraska Promise” will take effect in fall 2020 and will guarantee that full-time resident undergraduates whose families have an adjusted gross income of $60,000 or less or who qualify for the federal Pell Grant can attend any NU campus and pay no tuition. The Nebraska Promise will apply to returning, transfer and new students, both on-campus and online, and requires no separate application beyond the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

“Accessibility for the people of Nebraska has been core to the mission of our University for more than 150 years,” Carter said in announcing the Nebraska Promise at today’s Board of Regents meeting. Access and affordability have been key priorities for the students, faculty and staff of the university-wide strategic planning team charged with helping Carter chart a path forward for the NU system.

“Today we’re doubling down on that promise,” said Carter, who began as NU’s eighth president in January. “We understand that in these uncertain times, many Nebraskans are rethinking every dollar. We want students and families to know that their University is here for them, that we want them as part of our family, and that we’re doing everything we can to keep the promise of a college education within reach, no matter what their circumstance.”

Gov. Pete Ricketts said: “The Nebraska Promise will help more of our young people afford college, graduate on time and get a great-paying job here in our state. I’m pleased to see the University taking this important step to keep costs down for Nebraskans, especially at a time when all of us are tightening our belts.”

‘Taking care of Nebraskans’

Carter praised the university’s campus financial aid directors for their leadership and commitment to student access. With their help, Carter and the chancellors are continuing to explore opportunities to expand affordability.

The university’s tuition rates – the lowest in the Big Ten and well below peer averages on all campuses – are highly competitive, and NU students graduate, on average, with less debt than their peers. About 75 percent of University of Nebraska undergraduates receive financial aid. Yet the global economic pain being caused by COVID-19 calls for an even broader effort to limit costs for NU’s 51,000 students as well as future generations of students, Carter said. That will include a continued focus on student access, success and well-being.

“Even as we manage the challenge before us, the role of the University of Nebraska in providing a world-class education to students and meeting the economic needs of our state is as important now as ever,” Carter said. “We’re here to take care of Nebraskans. The Nebraska Promise is one more way for us to do that.”

The university’s existing need-based financial aid program, Collegebound Nebraska, guarantees tuition-free education for qualifying Pell-eligible Nebraska students. Nearly 3,000 students currently attend NU tuition-free under Collegebound Nebraska.

The expanded Nebraska Promise would cover approximately 1,000 additional current and future NU students. University leaders hope the program will attract Nebraskans who may not have thought they could afford a university education.

“The Nebraska Promise will create opportunities for more students than ever,” said Board of Regents Chairman Jim Pillen of Columbus. “That’s extra special in light of today’s circumstances. I’m so proud of our university for giving hope to Nebraskans.”

A collaborative approach

Nebraska policymakers expressed support for the program. Carter thanked elected leaders for their recognition of the importance of affordable, excellent higher education for the state.

“The Nebraska Promise is a remarkable commitment to the people of our state,” said Sen. John Stinner of Gering, chairman of the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee. “At a time when many families in my district and across Nebraska are struggling, the university is making a promise that the doors of higher education will remain open to every young person who is qualified to attend. Even in challenging times, we have to think about the long term, and I believe the Nebraska Promise is a pivotal decision that will help our state thrive in the future.”

Sen. Tony Vargas of Omaha said: “Increasing equity and access to higher education for young Nebraskans is a personal passion of mine. Challenging economic times only add to the urgency of making sure that every student, regardless of socioeconomic status, has the opportunity to succeed. The Nebraska Promise is a simple and powerful message: If you are in need, the university is here for you. Thank you to our university for going another step further to ensure access for every talented young Nebraskan.”

Sen. Anna Wishart of Lincoln said: “This is wonderful news at a difficult time for so many Nebraskans. I could not be prouder of our university for its care and compassion for students and families across our state. We continue to need efforts like Nebraska Promise to achieve college affordability, retain young people in our state, and grow our economy.”

The Nebraska Promise aligns with the mission of each NU campus and will send a strong message to current and potential students, according to the chancellors.

“President Carter cares deeply for the university and the state, and he shows how the university can be bold in challenging times,” said University of Nebraska at Kearney Chancellor Doug Kristensen. “This promise to Nebraska will change lives by making a university degree more affordable. Investing in students benefits all Nebraskans, and this news comes at the critical enrollment decision time to remind families that an affordable, quality bachelor’s degree is attainable, right here, and now.”

University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Ronnie Green said: “I love the clarity of this promise for access to Nebraska’s families and future leaders. If your family income is $60,000 or less, you can excel at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln tuition-free. This takes away the guessing game for many families and provides a clear path for a college degree at our Big Ten university.”

Dr. Jeffrey P. Gold, chancellor of the University of Nebraska at Omaha and University of Nebraska Medical Center, said: “Access is at the heart of the missions of both UNO and UNMC. Cost should not be a limiting factor for any Nebraska student who wants to change their life with a degree from one of our campuses. The Nebraska Promise further solidifies that commitment. I’m so pleased that we are doing everything in our power to welcome students to our campuses and help them complete their academic journeys.”

Program requirements

To be eligible for full tuition coverage under the Nebraska Promise, students must take at least 12 credit hours per semester and maintain a 2.5 grade point average. The Nebraska Promise will cover up to 30 credit hours per academic year. The program does not cover costs beyond tuition like fees, books, or room and board; each NU campus, however, offers numerous financial aid opportunities for students to help them cover the costs of their education.

The university has extended this year’s priority FAFSA deadline to June 1 to provide additional flexibility for students and families.

Detailed information on the Nebraska Promise program is available in both English and Spanish at www.nebraska.edu/nebraska-promise.

Carter urged students and families to contact University of Nebraska campuses for assistance with admissions and financial aid:

University of Nebraska at Kearney University of Nebraska-Lincoln University of Nebraska Medical Center University of Nebraska at Omaha