Gov. Pillen, NU unveil new scholarship for top ACT scoring students

As part of a comprehensive plan to reverse Nebraska’s brain drain and compete more effectively for top talent, Gov. Jim Pillen Monday joined University of Nebraska Interim President Chris Kabourek and representatives from the Board of Regents in announcing a new scholarship for the state’s top ACT scorers. The program will cover the total cost of undergraduate attendance, plus stipends, at any NU campus.

Beginning in the 2024-25 academic year, the Office of the President will fund a new Nebraska Presidential Scholars Program that will cover tuition, fees, books, housing and all other costs of attendance, plus a $5,000 annual stipend, for any Nebraska student who scores a perfect 36 on the ACT. The announcement from the governor and university was widely praised by agricultural, philanthropic, business and elected leaders who endorsed the vision to compete for Nebraska’s homegrown talent to meet the future needs of the state.

“This is a simple, but powerful, message to our best and brightest young people: We want you on Team Nebraska,” Gov. Pillen said. “As I travel around the state and talk to business and community leaders, something I hear again and again is that we need to do a better job of competing for talent. With the Presidential Scholars Program, we’re going to compete. I’m proud to join with President Kabourek and the Board of Regents in putting this bold plan forward.”

Kabourek said: “Gov. Pillen has challenged all of us to step up and work together to solve Nebraska’s brain drain. The University of Nebraska needs to play a leading role, and the Presidential Scholars Program is part of our answer to the governor’s call. I’m embarrassed that so many of Nebraska’s best and brightest are leaving our state because they are enticed by more competitive offers. This new scholarship sends a strong message that we want these kids to stay in Nebraska and we are going to go compete for them.”

Kabourek said NU is immediately launching a fundraising effort as part of its ongoing Only in Nebraska campaign to raise private funds to create a permanent Presidential Scholars endowment that will extend the program beyond those who achieve a 36 ACT. Ultimately, the university’s goal is to provide total cost of attendance scholarships to all Nebraska students who score a 33 or above.

“My message to every Nebraska student and every parent is that if you’re willing to work hard, the University of Nebraska will do everything we can to help you become the best version of yourself and get a great education that will prepare you for success,” Kabourek said.

UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, MD, said: “We need to use every possible tool to compete for Nebraska talent and build a highly skilled workforce that drives future economic growth and quality of life for our rural and urban communities alike. Across the workforce, and in health care in particular, it’s crucial that we provide opportunities for our highest-caliber students to stay here and put their talents to use for Nebraskans.

“This program represents just one of many such unique opportunities for Nebraskans to achieve their educational goals at one of the world class programs here at the University of Nebraska. I thank Gov. Pillen and the Legislature for their collaboration in these efforts. I hope that our young people hear the message loud and clear that we want you to join the university family as there’s no better place to create their futures than right here in Nebraska.”

On average over the past three years, about 600 Nebraska students a year score at least a 33, including about 30 who score a perfect 36. But less than half of those students enroll at the University of Nebraska, including only 22% of students with a 36. Meanwhile, Nebraska faces a persistent brain drain, at a time when the state urgently needs more workforce to fill current and future jobs.

The university’s goal is to enroll 80% of students who score a 33 or higher, Kabourek said. Furthermore, he said that elite academic performers who choose the University of Nebraska should be celebrated the way student-athletes are, with signing ceremonies and public attention to signal Nebraska’s pride in retaining them in the state.

“When we say we want the University of Nebraska to compete, this is exactly what we mean. I am thrilled that we are taking bold action to keep more of Nebraska’s best and brightest here in our state,” said Board of Regents chairman Tim Clare of Lincoln. “This is a win for our university, for students, our workforce and Nebraska’s national profile.”

The university is maintaining its prestigious Regents Scholarship, which covers full tuition costs for high academic performers, as well as its investment in need-based financial aid through the Nebraska Promise program, which provides free tuition for Nebraska students whose families earn $65,000 or less per year.

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