Sen. Lynne Walz of Fremont, chair of the Education Committee, introduces legislation at a news conference in the Nebraska State Capitol on March 16, 2022.
Sen. Lynne Walz of Fremont, chair of the Education Committee, introduces legislation at a news conference in the Nebraska State Capitol on March 16, 2022. Photo by Zach Wendling/NNS.

Higher education institutions could adopt a statewide goal aimed to increase the percentage of Nebraskans who have a postsecondary education.

A legislative resolution — LR335 introduced by the Nebraska Education Committee March 16 — proposes a statewide goal that at least 70% of Nebraskans 25 to 34 years old have a degree, certificate, diploma or other recognized credential with economic value by 2030.

The current attainment rate for this age group is approximately 58%, according to the resolution, and rate is about 55% for Nebraskans aged 25 to 64. The resolution states it’s also projected that at least 70% of Nebraska’s jobs will soon require such credentials in the future.

Sen. Lynne Walz of Fremont, chair of the Education Committee, said in a news conference the new attainment goal as well as two other bills would enhance Nebraska’s workforce.

“Our goal is to address the workforce shortage in meaningful ways while maintaining high quality teachers in Nebraska classrooms,” Walz said.

According to a handout, all of Nebraska’s neighboring states have adopted attainment goals.

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Sen. Lou Ann Linehan, Education Committee member and chair of the Revenue Committee, speaks at a news conference in the Nebraska State Capitol on March 16, 2022. Photo by Zach Wendling/NNS.

Sens. Jen Day of Omaha, Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn, Terrell McKinney of Omaha, Dave Murman of Glenvil and Rita Sanders of Bellevue — each a member of the Education Committee — were also in attendance to support the legislation.

Mike Baumgartner, the executive director of Nebraska’s Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education, said increased educational attainment is strongly correlated to greater state GDP, per capita income, labor force participation and quality of life.

“Setting the educational attainment goal will make us focus and organize promising strategies to promote workforce development and retention, economic diversification and innovation and diversity and inclusion,” Baumgartner said.

He said schools, colleges, universities and career professionals will need to educate, graduate and train 3,400 more young Nebraskans each year to meet a challenging but achievable goal.

Nebraska Commissioner of Education Matt Blomstedt highlighted that the partnership between Nebraska educators, leaders and legislators is critical because no group can achieve success alone.

Nebraska State Colleges Chancellor Paul Turman stressed these robust partnerships are possible through a multifaceted approach. More students need to graduate from high school and decide to stay in Nebraska for higher education, he said. 

Retaining and providing students with opportunities, including internships, is also critical, according to Turman.

“That’s the mechanism that is really going to help ensure that we can get our hooks into these students and retain them down the road,” he said.

University of Nebraska President Ted Carter said the university system is in full support of the proposed goal. Nebraska leaders need to find the right talent for the right jobs, which is an ever growing problem, but prioritizing affordability and accessibility are key to success.

Metropolitan Community College President Randy Schmailzl said it’s critical everyone has education, and the resolution gives Nebraska an opportunity to level the playing field with different types of education.

“To have a good democracy you have to have educated people, and that’s an important role for education in the state of Nebraska,” Schmailzl said.

Walz also highlighted LB902 from Sen. Ray Aguilar of Grand Island, which would put the Nebraska Career Scholarships Program into law, and LB1218 from the Education Committee, which would provide first-year educators a bonus of up to $5,000 a year for up to five years.

Aguilar said the career program began in 2020 and provides targeted scholarships to students pursuing degrees and programs needed in local communities.

“Our goal is to turn Nebraska into the place where our best and brightest bring their enthusiasm and their dynamic atmosphere for growth and community for all,” Aguilar said. 

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Lexie Brester, a freshman at Wayne State College studying elementary education, smiles with Sen. Lynne Walz, chair of the Education Committee, at a news conference in the Nebraska State Capitol on March 16, 2022. Photo by Zach Wendling/NNS.

Lexie Brester, a freshman at Wayne State College majoring in elementary education, was one of the first career scholarship recipients and said it also brought educational benefits.

“As a freshman in college, I have been granted opportunities that other freshmen can’t say that they have been,” Brester said.

Walz asked what additional financial support would mean to Brester, who responded it would reassure and support her in her career path.

Linehan, chair of the Nebraska Revenue Committee, said she was honored to be with a group of people who care deeply about the state and the future of its children and young adults.

It was a great day, too, Walz said, because the committee brought educators and the education system together. This will ensure the future of education in Nebraska is a priority.

“When we do that, we know that we can build strong and healthy kids. We know that we can build stronger, healthier communities,” Walz said. “We know that we’re on the right track for economic development.”