LINCOLN – Tuition freezes could be back on the table for students at the University of Nebraska and state colleges.
The Legislature's Appropriations Committee tentatively approved higher education budget increases this week that are large enough to make the two-year freeze possible.
The funding would be less than Gov. Dave Heineman had included in his budget, but more than committee members had included in their preliminary budget plan.
State Sen. Heath Mello of Omaha, the committee chairman, said members worked to find additional funds and to negotiate with higher education leaders.
“The tuition freeze and affordability compact was a priority of the committee,” he said.
NU President J.B. Milliken said the level of support will allow the university to hold the line on tuition for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years.
“This is a very positive step and welcomed by thousands of Nebraska students and their families,” he said.
Milliken and state college leaders reached agreement with Heineman early this year to forgo tuition increases for in-state students for two school years in exchange for a higher-than-average funding increase.
The funding level included in the Appropriations Committee's preliminary budget had appeared to put the agreement in jeopardy.
Mello said at the time that he expected the committee would revisit the higher education funding after budget hearings. During the hearings, students and higher education officials pleaded for more funding.
On Wednesday, the committee approved 4 percent budget increases for the university for each of the next two fiscal years. Heineman had proposed a 3.8 percent increase the first year and 4.6 percent the second.
On Thursday, the committee followed up by approving a 4.5 percent budget increase for state colleges in 2013-14 and a 4 percent increase the following year. Heineman had proposed increases of 4.5 percent and 4.4 percent for the comparable years.
Growing state tax revenue made the higher education funding increases easier, Mello said.
The state's official forecasting board projected that Nebraska would collect $64.8 million more than projected in taxes for the two-year budget period beginning July 1.
The Legislature and governor use the board's projections in building state budgets.
Mello cautioned that the budget increase — and the tuition freeze — is not a done deal.
The Appropriations Committee typically reviews its whole budget plan before sending it to the full Legislature.
The plan is due to the Legislature by May 1, and lawmakers must finish work on the budget by May 20.
The state budget picture could change when the forecasting board meets again in April.
“Everything's fluid right now,” Mello said.
The tuition freeze would apply to all in-state students attending the University of Nebraska campuses in Lincoln, Kearney and Omaha, including the NU Medical Center, as well as Chadron, Wayne and Peru State Colleges.
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