University of Nebraska President James B. Milliken announced Thursday a set of new commitments the school is making as part of a national initiative to expand college access and success to more students.
NU’s commitments, along with those of other colleges and universities around the country, were being shared at a White House summit hosted by President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama. Milliken is among the university presidents participating in the summit.
“Expanding affordable access to quality education is the University of Nebraska’s highest priority," said Milliken. "I’m very pleased that the White House has set a goal to ensure more Americans have the chance to attend and succeed in college. Today’s summit is a great opportunity to share new ideas with colleagues on what we can do reach that goal. I hope the commitments we discuss today will have a lasting impact on American higher education because the future of Nebraska and the country depend on our ability to make sure college is accessible for every student who is qualified and wants to attend.”
The University of Nebraska’s new commitments include scaling its pilot Nebraska Virtual Scholars program to make online courses available to more low-income, rural and potentially first-generation college students. Through Virtual Scholars, the university over the past several years has offered a limited number of scholarships for Nebraska students to take online high school courses from the University of Nebraska High School for free. The program has made Advanced Placement, STEM, elective and foundational courses available to many students largely in rural areas who likely would not otherwise have had access to the courses. The university intends to significantly expand the program, offering more high school courses as well as foundational courses to middle school students, in an effort to remedy academic preparation gaps that often exist in low-income and rural communities, accelerate college completion and lower the cost of a four-year degree. NU will work with state policymakers to develop a funding model for University of Nebraska high school courses.
NU will also communicate to all state middle school students and their parents, teachers and counselors about college preparation using new and nontraditional tools that are more relevant and effectively targeted to lower-income, rural and first-generation students. The university’s outreach to middle school students generally has relied on traditional communications such as letters, brochures and posters. New strategies will include leveraging social and digital platforms, conducting outreach to other organizations that work with youth, pairing current university students with middle school students in their hometowns to serve as role models, bringing groups of underrepresented and low-income students to university campuses and developing materials that can be sent home with students and used in settings such as classrooms and after-school programs. The university is creating a new position of vice provost for P-16 initiatives, whose responsibilities will include directing an enhanced education and outreach effort to increase college-going.
NU plans to significantly increase the number of low-income and first-generation students who participate in summer scholars programs on NU campuses. For example, at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, students enroll in a five-week pre-college summer session where they learn about college coursework, time management, admissions and financial aid. They interact with faculty and staff, explore career options and participate in community service activities. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln and University of Nebraska at Kearney offer summer “bridge” programs that allow incoming freshmen to experience campus life before the school year begins. The university intends to expand participation in these programs, particularly among low-income and first-generation students, in order to help them make a more successful transition to college life and prepare them for continued success and graduation. The university also plans to expand the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s High School Alliance, which offers unique science classes not available in a typical high school setting to high school students interested in a health care career.
The Obama administration has established a goal for the United States to have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020.
“The facts clearly demonstrate that Nebraska and the United States will need many more college graduates in the workforce in order to meet the economic demands of the future,” Milliken said. “We must ensure that college is accessible to every student who is qualified and wants to attend. It’s especially important that we expand access to students who have traditionally been underrepresented in higher education."