The impact of the coronavirus pandemic is foggy, but the University of Nebraska Board of Regents expects to be tested in the future and predicted a $43 million, three-year shortfall.

While the regents considered three-year projections, they officially adopted only the 2020-21 operating budget for the NU system. They unanimously approved that budget Friday during a two-hour and 20-minute meeting held remotely because of coronavirus concerns.

Setting a long-term plan during the pandemic is more than challenging. The virus will have a major impact on state revenues, which the NU system counts on, and also will have an uncertain effect on enrollment this fall, another key source of operating money for NU.

Nevertheless, the regents said during their meeting they believe the university is set up to do comparatively well. Regent Bob Phares of North Platte said NU is "in a very good place considering all the things we can't control."

A document given to the regents said that with the virus still prevalent, “many variables may impact our financial position” and a “high degree of uncertainty” is to be expected. How the $43 million in budget cuts would affect students and programs will be handled at the campus level by administrators and faculty members.

New NU President Ted Carter has said the shortfall will produce a 5.5% hit at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln over three years; 3.9% each at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and the University of Nebraska at Kearney; and 2.9% at the NU Medical Center. Carter said the small, two-year Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture has not been asked to make cuts.

Carter has implemented a program called Nebraska Promise in which students from Nebraska families of income under $60,000 receive free tuition. Carter expects that program to cost $5.3 million the first year while bringing in about 1,000 more students who will pay fees for residence halls, dining halls and other things that will make up for some of the cost.

The regents also approved program and facility student fees for the NU institutions in Lincoln, Omaha and Kearney. A second set of student fees is overseen by the student governments at each institution and not by the regents. The fee amounts approved Friday vary by campus:

  • UNL will raise program and facility fees by 36%, or by $128 per semester, for students taking six or fewer credit hours. The increase mainly involves their use of the health center. Students taking seven or more credit hours will pay about $591, or $6.42 less per semester, than they paid in 2019-20.
  • The increase in those fees for students with a low number of credit hours will be $7.85 per semester at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Those taking seven or more credit hours will pay $13 more per semester than in 2019-20, bringing the semesterly fee to $485.60.
  • The NU Medical Center made no increases in program and facility fees, keeping the rate for full-timers at $162.25 per semester.
  • The University of Nebraska at Kearney increased fees by $11 per semester, to $428 for full-time students (who take 12 hours or more). UNK adjusts program and facility fees for part-time students by the number of credit hours they are taking.

The regents intend to raise tuition about 2.75% in 2020-21 and have pledged not to raise it the following two years.

The operating budget for the NU system calls for a 3.7% increase in state allocations in 2020-21 and 2% over each of the following two years. The 2020-21 appropriations already have been approved by state leaders.

NU expects a decrease in international and other out-of-state students. International student enrollments are foreseen by national experts to be down at most institutions across the country. Travel restrictions, the presence of coronavirus and political strife with countries like China will drive down the number of students, they say.

The NU system expects a $15.7 million decline in money this year from such students, who generally pay full tuition. UNL already saw a drop in international students last year from 2,807 to about 2,560, close to a 9% decline.

UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green said last week the enrollment drop in 2019-20 set his university back, so UNL has a carryover shortfall of $12 million on top of its share of the $43 million gap — $25.8 million — for a total of about $38 million. UNL enrolls by far the most international students of the institutions of the NU system.

rick.ruggles@owh.com, 402-444-1123