A study sponsored by the Platte Institute suggests Nebraska needs to reach defined goals for what it wants from its colleges.
Study author Dennis Jones says Nebraska has several advantages, including hard-working and well-educated residents.
“But, it’s a state that, I would say, is not worried about its future nearly as much as it should,” Jones tells Nebraska Radio Network.
Jones is president of the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems. He wrote “Getting it Right: Public Policy and Nebraska Higher Education,” for the Platte Institute.
Jones says other states have been moving their higher education systems toward producing more degrees, especially in critical areas of study.
“I’m a native Nebraskan. I grew up here,” Jones says. “And, I worry about the future of a state that thinks that what it’s doing now, played out into the future, will be good enough.”
Jones says state colleges in Nebraska, from the University of Nebraska system to community colleges, need to better serve the growing Hispanic population as well as other minorities. Jones says Nebraska suffers from a huge gap in the education levels of whites and minorities.
If the state fails to address those discrepancies, Nebraska will have an increasingly under-skilled and under-educated workforce, according to Jones.
He says the state also must address the needs of its aging population, which might need to refine or enhance work skills during their careers.
Jones sees an arms-length relationship between higher education in Nebraska and its state government.
“What I’m really arguing in this report is, there needs to be some intentionality about what higher education does; that it’s focused on things that the state needs and cares about,” according to Jones.
Jones says many states talk about at what level to finance colleges and how best to hold them accountable, but he says perhaps the questions should be: accountable for what and financed to what end?
“In the absence of what I call a public agenda, but a statement of priorities for higher education to address and deal with for the next 15 years, you don’t have much to focus either how you spend your money or how you do accountability,” Jones states. “So, the first task, as far as I’m concerned, is a focus on to what end?”
AUDIO: Brent Martin talks with study author Dennis Jones about higher education in Nebraska. [6:35]