Career scholarship proposal clears first round

A proposal to codify an existing state scholarship program for postsecondary students enrolled in programs that lead to jobs in high-demand fields advanced from general file March 28.

Sen. Raymond Aguilar
Sen. Raymond Aguilar

Under LB902, introduced by Sen. Raymond Aguilar of Grand Island, students who achieve a minimum score on a standard college admission test and enroll in an eligible program of study at the University of Nebraska, Nebraska state colleges, community colleges or private postsecondary institutions would receive a Nebraska Career Scholarship.

Aguilar said the bill would codify a program that has existed in the state budget since 2020. He said the scholarships are intended to help meet demand for skilled workers in some of the state’s largest cities that do not have four-year colleges, including Columbus, Grand Island, Norfolk and North Platte.

The amount of each scholarship would vary from $5,000 to $25,000 per year depending on the institution. A scholarship would be renewed automatically each year if the recipient remains enrolled in good standing in the eligible program of study for which it was awarded.

Eligible programs would vary by institution and include health care, computer information systems, engineering or a program in a skilled trade or identified shortage area.

To qualify for a scholarship, a student would have to be a first-time freshman or a transfer student. Scholarships could be used for tuition, fees, required tools and equipment, room and board.

LB902 would require each scholarship recipient to register with the appropriate campus office to obtain a Nebraska-based internship, apprenticeship, clinical position or employment in a field related to their program of study before they graduate.

Finally, the bill would require each institution’s governing body to submit an annual report on scholarship recipients and eligible programs of study to the Legislature and the governor.

Under an Education Committee amendment, adopted 35-0, the state Department of Economic Development, in collaboration with each institution’s governing body, would designate eligible programs of study based on periodic reviews of Nebraska’s workforce needs beginning in academic year 2024-25.

Fremont Sen. Lynne Walz, the committee’s chairperson, said the amendment also would state legislative intent to appropriate $50,000 in general funds for fiscal year 2022-23 to the Board of Trustees of the Nebraska State Colleges for cooperative programs with Wayne State College.

Aguilar said such a program would give Grand Island a “fighting chance” to attract talented college seniors who would work full time at local businesses while earning academic credit.

“My community recognizes the looming impact of automation and the need to attract higher skilled workers to ensure that Grand Island can remain competitive for our largest employers and create new job opportunities,” he said.

Senators voted 36-0 to advance LB902 to select file.

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