Carter previews 5-year priorities for NU

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Carter Forum

Ted Carter, priority candidate to be the next president of the University of Nebraska, and his wife, Lynda Carter, greet UNL student Keaton Fricker at a forum at Hawks Hall on Tuesday. 

University of Nebraska President Ted Carter announced Friday, during his first meeting leading the university system, he is officially a Nebraskan.

“I have a driver’s license, I have plates on my car, I’ve paid some taxes and I’ve already voted,” said Carter, who started at NU on Jan. 1 after emerging last October as the sole finalist to replace Hank Bounds

The former superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy told the NU Board of Regents he had spent his first month on the job diving into the data about the system, with an eye on developing a five-year strategic plan by April 17.

The themes underlying that plan, which will be unveiled in conjunction with Carter’s installation, are growth, retention and culture, he said, that will be stitched into the strategic plans of the individual campuses.

“I think you’re going to see some bold ideas about how we can grow our impact on our students, our state and the world,” Carter said.

The new president lauded NU and its partners in state government for keeping tuition costs in check and student debt below the national average, but said the university “can and will do better.”

New investments by the university, the state and private donors like in UNL’s College of Engineering are capable of drawing new students and bolstering enrollment, Carter said.

But NU’s campuses in Lincoln, Omaha and Kearney will also need to do more to keep students between their freshman and sophomore years, the period most students drop out.

According to the data, UNL’s approximately 83% retention rate is below its peer average of 87%, while UNO (77%) and UNK (79%) exceed comparable institutions.

Carter said as part of the Commit to Complete initiative, which challenges students to work toward a college degree in four years, helping them enter the workforce faster and graduate with less student debt, NU should strive for retention rates between 85% and 90% at its three undergraduate campuses.

“We must ensure students are prepared to enter their first year in college, sometimes referred to as grade 13, that they have the support and resources to progress through a four-year program and know a job awaits them upon graduation,” he said.

Only about half of NU students graduate in four years, however.

“Four years might not be the best path for everyone, but I’m convinced we can do more to help educate our students on the benefits of timely graduation versus the costs of staying in school longer,” he said.

Expanding online education opportunities might play into that plan, Carter said, while it is also important to recruit and retain top faculty and staff, who are paid less than their peers at other institutions.

“Remaining 4.5% to 3% behind our peers at UNL and UNMC, respectively, is like putting up a ‘for sale’ sign for our talent in the university’s front yard,” he said. “I promise, we’re going to make this a priority to fix.”

Carter said he’ll also emphasize improving diversity among the student bodies and faculty. He noted that while 52% of NU’s students are women, only 38% of its faculty are.

His strategic planning document will also focus on improving nonresident enrollment at NU; engaging the research enterprise to solve local, state, national and global problems; building community partnerships, and pursuing sustainability and energy efficiency efforts.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7120 or cdunker@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @ChrisDunkerLJS

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