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The University of Nebraska Board of Regents approved a $1 billion annual budget on Friday that will freeze tuition rates for two years.

Meeting at Varner Hall for the first time since early in 2020, regents unanimously hailed the budget's focus on making investments in student success, faculty compensation and facility improvements.

President Ted Carter said the plan was the result of a "thoughtful, strategic and disciplined" approach taken by campus and system leaders in the midst of a pandemic.

"We had to make some tough decisions, but we've done it for the long-term growth and success of the university," Carter said. "I feel very good about this budget."

The 2021-22 budget includes a 2.5% increase in state appropriations, raising taxpayer support for NU to $628.5 million next year, and accounts for anticipated increases in tuition revenue as enrollment numbers grow.

Along with keeping tuition rates flat for the next two years, NU will continue the Nebraska Promise, which covers the full tuition costs for 1,000 in-state students from families with household incomes of $60,000 or less.

It also includes a 1.5% increase in merit pay for faculty at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the University of Nebraska Medical Center, and provides funds to chancellors to pursue strategic objectives on their respective campuses.

Finally, the budget includes plans to start deploying $400 million in funds to improve infrastructure across NU campuses.

Before taking a vote, student regents -- all at their first meeting -- praised the plan as one that invests in student success, both directly and indirectly.

UNO Regent Maeve Hemmer said the tuition freeze makes higher education more accessible and affordable, while increasing faculty pay and addressing facility needs indirectly benefit students.

"This budget, for lack of a better term, really puts the money where our mouth is," she said.

UNMC Regent Taylor Kratochvil said investments in faculty pay will mean better training for students, which in turn will benefit hospitals and clinics across the state.

UNK Regent Noah Limbach added the deferred maintenance program will result in "state-of-the-art facilities" which will also help recruit faculty and students to Nebraska.

"This really is an investment in Nebraska's future," UNL Regent Batool Ibrahim said.

The budget passed in an 8-0 vote.

In other business:

* Gov. Pete Ricketts addressed regents, becoming the first governor to do so in recent memory. Ricketts commended NU for growing its enrollment at a time when other colleges and universities saw student numbers dwindle, and credited Carter for "setting the tone" in announcing the university would hold in-person classes last fall.

* Regents approved a 2.3% increase to the 2021-22 operating budget for the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture in Curtis. The ag college's total state-aided budget is now $4.6 million.

* Kiewit Hall, announced in 2019 to help expand the UNL College of Engineering, got a guaranteed maximum price of $80.3 million. A groundbreaking ceremony for the new building, which will rise at the corner of 17th and Vine streets, is scheduled for Monday.

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On Twitter @ChrisDunkerLJS

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