Financial aid suggested for independent colleges

The Education Committee heard testimony March 4 on a bill that would provide additional financial aid to residents who attend independent Nebraska colleges and universities.

LB465, introduced by Omaha Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh, would create a program to increase financial aid to students attending schools that are not part of the state university system. Lautenbaugh said Nebraska’s independent colleges award more than 41 percent of the state’s bachelor degrees and serve 33,000 students. Those students, however, receive only 0.3 percent of state aid allocated to colleges and universities in Nebraska.

The bill would direct aid to students demonstrating substantial financial need, meaning their families are expected to contribute less than $5,500 to the annual cost of the student’s education.

Fred Ohles, president of Nebraska Wesleyan University, supported the bill, calling the state’s potential contribution to these students a “solid investment.”

“In Nebraska, college enrollment and completion efforts must be focused on low-income and first generation students to meet our state’s ambitious goals,” he said.

Representing Creighton University, James Cavanaugh also supported the bill.

“We’ve regressed as a state with regard to student financial aid,” Cavanaugh said. “It’s not good for the state and it’s indefensible public policy.”

Marshall Hill, executive director of the Coordinating Commission on Postsecondary Education, opposed the bill. He said it would be a mistake to shift funding from one student to another.

“If you want to provide more support for students of the independent colleges and universities, put more money into the Nebraska Opportunity Grant,” he said. “This would rise the tide that raises all boats.”

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

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