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Aid, outreach credited for Neb. college attendance

Grant Schulte, Associated Press

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) -- An effort to increase financial aid and outreach programs for Nebraska high school students has helped increase the numbers of those pursuing a two- or four-year degree, college administrators said Thursday.

Administrators from the University of Nebraska and the state's colleges said a grant program aimed at high schools has allowed more of the state's students to make campus visits.

The University of Nebraska and state and community colleges also pointed to offer tuition assistance and a two-year tuition freeze approved by the state this year.

Nearly 65 percent of Nebraska high school students went to college in fall 2006, with the state ranking 19th nationally. Nebraska climbed to 7th place in 2010, with nearly 70 percent of high school students enrolling in college, according to the newest available data in a 2013 report from Nebraska's Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education.

"A key factor in sustaining and improving this ranking is for students to visit a college or colleges of their choice," Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman said during a news conference at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. "The likelihood of a student attending college increases dramatically if that student has made at least one college visit."

The effort is part of the Nebraska P-16 Initiative, a joint effort of 27 business, government and education groups to improve student achievement. The University of Nebraska has maintained below-average tuition compared to peer institutions, and took $10.4 million from its operating budget in 2011 to pay for need-based financial aid.

Earlier this year, lawmakers approved $62.1 million in Heineman's proposed budget for a two-year tuition freeze at the University of Nebraska. The budget also included $6.2 million for the Nebraska State College System.

University of Nebraska President J.B. Milliken said students weigh a combination of factors, including affordability and financial, when selecting a college.

"These are critical questions that families have to grapple with when visiting colleges," he said.

The campus visits are particularly important for students who may have little to no familiarity with higher education, said Jacque Carter, the president at Doane College in Crete.

"It is especially important for first-generation college students who might have uncertainty about whether they can attain a college degree," Carter said.