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NSCS chancellor speaks to economic report

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Prior to last week’s regular meeting of the Nebraska State Colleges Board of Trustees, Nebraska State College System (NSCS) Chancellor Paul Turman spoke about the economic impact report the state colleges have on their communities.

Turman explained the project itself took some time to get going. Though a firm had reached out to provide services in early 2019, it was about 18 months before it would happen since the NSCS was in the middle of developing a strategic plan.

Following the strategic plan, work was done to get the economic plan moving, In July of 2021, the first analysis was presented. What was found was Wayne and Chadron state colleges — because they don’t serve Omaha like Peru does — were being underestimated.

“So if I graduate from Chadron,” Turman said, “and then end up in Grand Island, Lincoln or Omaha, I don’t get counted.”

Going back to the drawing board, a full statewide analysis was completed. That showed, as a system the NSCS has an impact of about $564,000,000; Chadron’s was $152,000,000. State General Funds at the time the data was submitted was about $57,000,000. Turman further explained this meant for about every dollar received from the State has a return investment of about $10.

Another piece of data gained from the report was the number of jobs supported by the state colleges. This is a combination of the employees but also how this evolves into the communities.

Turman noted Peru State College is the largest employer in a five-county region in southeast Nebraska. Chadron has the same type of impact, he noted, and the NCSC has an ongoing goal impact the agricultural community. According to the report, Chadron State supports 2,748 jobs.

Another item on the report was how much an average Nebraskan makes with only a high school degree compared to what he or she could make with a four-year college degree. For the entire system, Turman said, the difference was about $22,000 more with a college degree. Factored over a 35-year career, that impact is just under $1 million.

Turman noted he’s excited to incorporate these reports into the biennium budget report to the Legislation appropriators.

In regard to the recent federal student loan “bail out,” Turman said it’s something of a challenging public policy item. One of the elements, he said, is how to address individuals who have loans who are in a “predatory” situation, where the loans have been sold off and interest rates increased dramatically.

“That’s part of what they’re attempting to address,” he said, further adding that, according to the indicators on the NSCS strategic plan is the average total debt for graduates is just over $20,000.

“I think if that’s the debt you come out of the state colleges with, what you’re going to find is, based on earning potential, those individuals are going to have a lot of capacity to pay that down.”

Turman is critical of the loan forgiveness for those who choose private institutions with significantly higher tuition and fees. He also doesn’t think it needed to be extended to graduate students, as their earning potential continues to compound.

“Our board has been very vested in keeping our costs as low as possible, so we have students who leave our institutions with a good opportunity for a job that will get them into a career and allow them to pay down their debt.”

Turman also emphasized about 42% of the students who go to state institutions and get granted, and get granted aid, get enough to cover costs of tuition.

Rather than loan forgiveness, Turman said if he were in the position he would look into increasing the Pell award to increase the number of students going to college at an affordable rate.

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