Midlands Voices: Investing in education is an investment in ourselves and our state – Omaha World-Herald | Team Cansler

We often think of the stock market or buying a home when we talk about the importance of making a good investment. Yet we don’t often think about the investments we make every day to keep the communities in Omaha and the state of Nebraska vibrant and strong.

As rector of the University of Nebraska at Omaha and Nebraska’s Director of Economic Development, we have had the pleasure of contributing to the development of our state’s workforce. We have also had the privilege of being business and financial analysts for more than 20 years each, which is why we recognize that investments must be made strategically to position yourself to achieve important future goals. This is true not only for individuals but also for our communities, because regardless of size, location or composition, a community is stronger when it invests in its future.







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Tony Goin








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Joanne Li


Currently, more than 135,000 Nebraska students and their families are making this investment in themselves to achieve a better future. And the data confirms that; The National Center for Education Statistics recently released a report showing the annual income of a student with just a high school diploma of about $36,000. That number jumps to about $59,000 with a bachelor’s degree — an income gap of almost $1 million over the course of a person’s career. This investment is not just for personal gain; It is also an investment to improve the overall quality of life for their families and communities. It’s that ROI that, while not often discussed, has truly incalculable implications.

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Our colleges don’t just rely on students to make this investment in themselves. Through the support of our state, city and community, public institutions can make a transformative impact on Nebraska citizens. These include state investment in Nebraska Career Scholarships proposed by Gov. Ricketts and approved by the Legislature in 2019. These scholarships will have invested in over 2,100 students by 2023, empowering Nebraska’s young adults to find great jobs in high-demand fields such as engineering and manufacturing. Through business site visits, job shadowing, and mentoring, upon graduation, Nebraska’s career grant recipients gain a connection to their community ready to thrive.

This includes students like Hannah Bellus, who is pursuing a degree in public health and, thanks to these funds, is able to do so without compensating for work. This includes students like Kyle Fitch, an electrical engineering student who came to Omaha to pursue his career goals and received scholarship funds to secure housing that would have otherwise led him to look elsewhere for his education.

Private investment in higher education has also contributed to our country’s success. There is a long list of generous visionaries who have invested in Nebraska by investing in higher education. Names like Buffett, Scott, Holland, Eppley, Durham, Sapp, Strauss, Weitz, and others have invested as much in our state’s intellectual infrastructure as they have in the physical spaces that adorn their names.

Their dedication is evident in the achievements of students like Josiah Krutz, who benefited from an accelerated master’s program as a computer science student and now works for Google here in Omaha. This includes JoAnna Leflore-Ejike, a Goodrich grantee who now serves as executive director of the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation, continuing that investment in our communities.

These investments, both public and private, have a long history of positioning Nebraskans in a strong position to succeed. In fact, Nebraska’s public university system was established just two years after the state’s incorporation, and investment in that system has spurred the state ever since. Just earlier this year, national research firm Tripp Umbach found that the University of Nebraska alone returned $9 to the state for every $1 invested.

Combine that with the fact that Nebraska had record employment that year. And we have the highest labor force participation rate in the country at 70%. We also rank first nationwide when it comes to the economic well-being of children, and our state economy is the most resilient to recessions in the nation. This is no coincidence.

In a volatile market, any good advisor will tell you to look for stable, proven assets. And Nebraska residents have demonstrated time and time again that investing in education—be it yours or someone else’s—is the safest community investment you can make.


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Joanne Li, Ph.D., CFA is the Principal of the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Tony Goins is Director of Economic Development for the State of Nebraska.

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