University of Nebraska leaders already have set an ambitious goal to grow UNO by some 5,000 students, by almost a Drake University.
That goal of growing to 20,000 students is now accompanied by a new master plan that offers an impressive vision for how the University of Nebraska at Omaha would serve them.
The plan, which looks to meet UNO’s needs for the next 30 to 40 years, envisions an increasingly residential UNO, one that keeps pushing toward a more traditional campus feel, if the university and its backers can secure private and public funding. It would double campus housing, to 4,300 slots, and add classroom and laboratory facilities.
More housing is vital when, as Chancellor John Christensen said, UNO’s urban university counterparts offer 7 percent to 10 percent more. It’s also an important option for students who want the academic and social support of on-campus living.
The plan rightly emphasizes better connections among UNO’s three campuses — the main campus on Dodge Street, the residential and professional campus on Pacific Street and the new athletic campus taking shape along Center Street. Clearer identities for each campus will help make plain what takes place in each spot, and students will benefit from being able to get from one part of campus to another more easily.
The plan also acknowledges the need for more parking to better serve UNO’s mix of mid-career students, first-time college students and visiting professionals. Perhaps, as the plan envisions, busing to new parking around the $88 million UNO arena is one answer to how to improve parking on a campus in the middle of town.
University Regent Hal Daub of Omaha is right when he says UNO students need to be able to predict how much time it will take to get from work to class and back. It is vital to UNO’s mission of serving student populations for whom higher education is harder to obtain.
There’s no telling whether UNO will achieve all it intends, but it is a credit to university leaders that they see an increasing role for UNO locally and on the state and regional stage.
Academic standards are improving, as are outcomes. Fundraising is clearly an asset the university can call upon. Its relationships in the community are strong. Its reputation is growing. As recently as 2006, the annual economic impact of UNO on the Omaha area was more than $2 billion.
Our growing, thriving city is home to a growing, thriving metropolitan university. Omaha’s businesses and people benefit from the youth and vigor UNO brings into our midst, much like the city and region benefit from Creighton University and the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
A growing, vibrant UNO is as good for Omaha and Nebraska as a growing and vibrant Omaha is for UNO and the entire state.