Ricketts proposes new $4,000 annual scholarships aimed at filling Nebraska’s workforce needs
LINCOLN — Gov. Pete Ricketts announced a proposed new college scholarship program Monday aimed at filling critical workforce needs for Nebraska.
If funded by the State Legislature, the new Nebraska Talent Scholarships program would provide $4,000 annual scholarships for students in specific majors in the University of Nebraska system, the three state colleges and the six community colleges.
In addition, Ricketts proposed to expand his Developing Youth Talent Initiative, which promotes efforts to get middle school students interested in manufacturing and technology. The governor launched the initiative in 2015, shortly after taking office.
NU President Hank Bounds said businesses constantly tell him that Nebraska desperately needs more skilled people to fill job openings. But too many young people leave Nebraska for college and work.
“We face a workforce crisis in this state,” he said.
Greg Adams, executive director of the Nebraska Community College Association, echoed that sentiment, saying that everyone in education has heard the pleas of employers searching for workers. He said the proposed program would help.
“It’s not going to fix everything, but it’s a step forward,” he said. “It’s our legislative priority to build our workforce.”
The proposed scholarship program would provide 250 scholarships for the university and another 250 for state colleges in the first year, at a cost of $2 million. The number would double in the second year, for a cost of $4 million annually.
The scholarships would be available to university students studying mathematics, engineering, health care, computer information systems and all programs at the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture in Curtis.
The state college scholarships would be provided for students of rangeland management, criminal justice, computer information systems and industrial technology.
The community colleges would have 65 scholarships in the first year, at a cost of $260,000. The number and cost would double in the second year. The scholarships would be for students in the skilled trades or target areas of study determined by the Nebraska Department of Economic Development.
Ricketts said it will be up to the individual institutions to set requirements for the scholarships and make the awards. As planned, NU and state college students could renew the scholarships for four years, while community college students could get them for two years.
Along with the scholarships, the governor said his budget plan will call for fully funding increases in salaries and benefits for faculty and staff at the university and state colleges. Details of that plan will be unveiled at his State of the State speech on Jan. 15.
The other part of Monday’s announcement concerned the Developing Youth Talent Initiative, which has provided about two grants a year and has reached more than 7,000 students in 23 school districts. The grants go to collaborations between private industry and public schools.
Now, Ricketts said he wants to offer up to 12 grants a year, boosting the annual cost to $1.5 million annually, up from $250,000 currently. The expansion aims to reach new students in every region of the state each year.