The Brain Drain Budget: Gov. Heineman's Higher Education Hypocrisyby Kyle Michaelis
Gov. Dave Heineman issued a challenge Wednesday to get more Nebraska students into college....Christensen is absolutely correct that the doors to higher education have closed for many Nebraska students - except it's Heineman and his cohorts who've locked that door and thrown away the key.
Heineman noted that Nebraska ranks among the top five states for high school graduation, but barely exceeds the national average for the number of students who go on to college.
He challenged state education leaders to boost the college-going rate from its current 59.7 percent.
Increasing that rate by 5 percentage points would give Nebraska one of the top five college attendance rates in the country, Heineman said....
State Education Commissioner Doug Christensen said many students don't believe college is possible for them.
Those whose parents did not attend college or who come from lower-income families may feel the doors to higher education are closed, he said.
In Heineman's 2-1/2 years in office, he's consistently paid lip-service to making higher education accesible and affordable, yet by his actions and his priorities before the state legsilature he's clearly a roadblock standing in the way of Nebraska's making any true progress on these fronts.
In the 2007 legislative session that just ended two weeks ago, Heineman's proposed budget included increases to the University of Nebrask's budget of only 1.1 percent in the first year and 2.2 percent in the second year. This is at a time of booming revenue for the state, after years of the University's funding becoming a smaller and smaller share of the state budget while rising costs of energy, facility maintenance, and health insurance have far, far outpaced the rate of inflation.
So, where have the burdens of those costs been shifted? On the backs of students and their families, of course, who've faced skyrocketing tuition rates and student fees each and every year.
When Gov. Heineman has had a real opportunity to lead and to commit this state towards investing in our youth - our most precious natural resource - he instead went precisely the opposite route, making a short-sighted and destructive budget proposal that should have had every student, parent, and Nebraska business leader up in arms. Heineman offered a brain drain budget that would have sacrificed many of our best and brightest students, practically forcing them out of the state to continue their education.
University leaders and a few bold members of the Legislature's Appropriations Committee fought tooth and nail against Heineman's brain drain budget, getting the legislature to increase state aid by an average of 4% annually over the next two years. Although Heineman ultimately acquiesced to this reasonable but still insufficient funding, he used it as a bargaining chip to convince those Republican State Senators who are in his pocket not to override his vetoes of increased funding for a wide range of social services targeted at Nebraska's neediest citizens - from the elderly who rely on the Meals on Wheels program, to prostitutes seeking rehabilitation, to anyone with mental illness, substance abuse problems, or developmental disabilities. Jesus Christ must be so proud!
Now, the University of Nebraska's Board of Regents has come forward with a plan that raises tuition by 6% in the next school year. One can only imagine how bad the tuition increase would have been had Heineman gotten his way with his original brain drain budget.
As is, this 6% increase is hardly a victory after a decade of Republican "leadership" in the Governor's Mansion that has turned a blind eye as tuition has more than doubled. Let's look at tuition rates (per credit hour) at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln since 1997, the year before the Johanns/Heineman-machine took over our state government:
1997 $78.50 4.7%
1998 $82.75 5.4%
1999 $87.25 5.4%
2000 $92.00 5.4%
2001 $101.25 10.1%
2002 $111.50 10.1%
2003 $128.25 15.0%
2004 $143.75 12.1%
2005 $151.00 5.0%
2006 $160.00 6.0%
2007 $169.50 5.9%
What's saddest is that tuition increases have followed the same pattern across Nebraska's University system. Meanwhile, tuition at our state colleges in Wayne, Peru, and Chadron has also skyrocketed, with a 7% increase expected this year to $110 per credit hour.
In the midst of this crisis - to which Heineman's continued neglect, failed leadership, and lack of vision have been some of the worst contributing factors - it's simply outrageous that he would now act as if he gave a damn about making higher education more accessible and affordable. The numbers tell a different story, as does Heineman's actual record.
Everything we needed to know about Heineman's concern for higher education was revealed by his brain drain budget. Why no one will call him on his record, why he hasn't been exposed as the hypocrite and fraud his record reveals him to be, is a question each of us must ask of our leaders and of ourselves.