University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Ronnie Green is expecting another record-setting enrollment when the fall semester kicks off.
Green discussed enrollment, the university’s budget and other issues during a trip through southeast Nebraska on Friday that included mingling with the public at the Jefferson and Fillmore county fairs.
During a stop in Beatrice, Green said one of the most frequent questions he receives, even seven years after the transition, is regarding Nebraska’s membership in the Big Ten Conference and what the jump has meant for the school.
He said one component of the move was setting higher enrollment goals, with the university on pace to eventually hit a targeted 30,000 enrolled students, even as similar institutions are seeing enrollment decline.
“The last three years, we’ve set our all-time enrollment record each of the last three falls,” he said. “I think we can expect to see, and the goal is to see, reaching that 30,000 level within the 2025 time frame in the years ahead. We continue to see that growth in enrollment, even though that is not the trend overall if you look at similar institutions.”
Green expects this year’s enrollment to be between 26,000-27,000 students.
He added that controversial areas of free speech and faculty conduct, which have made national headlines, haven’t impacted the university’s enrollment in rural and more traditionally conservative areas like Gage County.
“We have over 150 students from the three-county area here at UNL,” Green said. “That number is continuing to be strong. Our recruitment in this area has continued to be strong... As we’ve talked to students, and we talk to them a lot about these issues, they don’t tell us that this is an issue for them. They don’t tell us that they feel like there is a problem with whatever perspective one comes from being represented.”
The situation began last August when an English department lecturer was filmed protesting a recruiting event for Turning Point USA, a conservative student group, on UNL's campus.
Video of the protest spread widely across social media and led to a prolonged response from conservatives who cited it as evidence of liberal bias on UNL's campus.
Green said the university encourages free speech and views it as a learning opportunity.
“We need to challenge students to be able to come and learn from all perspectives,” he said. “That’s what a university is. We feel very strongly that freedom of speech is alive and well at the university. It is on a daily basis. The way in which people are having conversations now has changed where there are very strong viewpoints on all sides of issues. We want people to be able to come and have a dialogue going on all issues openly.”
The university has also been plagued by budget woes, most recently finalizing $2.9 million in its second round of budget cuts in June by eliminating 18 faculty and staff positions as well as two academic programs - the electronics engineering program and the Center for Instructional Innovation.
Despite the cuts and other measures UNL has taken to ease budget issues, which Green said include changes in travel reimbursement, communications and similar areas, he believes the budget is currently under control.
“I think we’ve managed that very well,” Green said. “I think we’ve been able to address it, but we are eliminating well over 100 positions in the university to be able to address this and we’re hopeful moving forward that we’ve reached the end of the tightening and moving forward the state’s budget will improve to where we won’t be back in the same position.”
The university has eliminated a total of $6.3 million in programs and positions this year.