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Innovation Campus will help to grow the University of Nebraska

The University of Nebraska has a goal of increasing the numbers of students by 5,000 over the next five years, said Ronnie Green, vice chancellor for the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources and University of Nebraska vice president.

“Growing a 25,000-student campus to a 30,000-student campus is a pretty substantial increase in student capacity in a short time,” Green said.

He was in Grand Island on Wednesday with Brian Hastings, new president and chief executive officer of the University of Nebraska Foundation, and Shawn Eichorst, new athletic director at UNL. With more applications coming in, Green said, the university is seeing that student-growth goal becoming a reality.

“We have gone through a pretty rapid growth over the last 10 years already,” he said.

But some of that future growth will have to come from out of state. Green said the number of Nebraska high school students has been flat in recent years.

“But, on the flip side of that, we think we can get a higher yield of students in state that will go to UNL, UNK (the University of Nebraska at Kearney) or elsewhere in the system,” he said. “We also think there is huge growth opportunity for bringing students from other states to Nebraska.”

Being the smallest university in the Big Ten provides ample opportunity for growth as some Big Ten schools have capped enrollment, he said.

“We are higher value as it costs less to go to school here out of state than it is to go to school in state at a number of our Big Ten schools,” Green said. “We are seeing a fair amount of interest from students in Illinois and Minnesota in those early admits in the growth of enrollments.”

As the number of students grows, so does investment in the university. That includes research and development, Green said, especially in agriculture.

“We were up 20 percent from last year in total research expenditures in agricultural and natural resources,” he said. Green said the university’s goal is to double research and development in the next five years.

“We are on track to do that,” he said. One area where they have already exceeded their five-year goal is agricultural education.
“We hit our five-year goal last year,” Green said.

Another area in which university investment will help grow the number of students is its Innovation Campus.

Last month, the university announced that ConAgra will be the first major corporate partner in the Innovation Campus. ConAgra Foods is headquartered in Omaha and recently purchased Ralcorp Holdings, making ConAgra the largest producer of private-label packaged food in North America.

“We have already broke ground in Phase 1 of development of the facility,” Green said.

According to the university, the Innovation Campus concept was announced in November 2007 and became reality on Jan. 1, 2010, when the state transferred the former State Fair grounds to UNL. The 249-acre tract is designated to be transformed into a public-private research and technology development center.

Innovation Campus has 2 million square feet of research and development space and will eventually house as many as 7,000 people working in a collaborative environment. In June 2011, plans were unveiled for four new or renovated buildings, representing an estimated $80 million in public and private investment. That includes laboratory, greenhouse, conference and office space in the 280,000 square feet to be constructed as part of Phase 1.

“ConAgra being our first major corporate partner is significant,” Green said. “They are a major food company based in Nebraska, and they are getting bigger. They are a $19 billion global company, and we are really pleased that they are a Nebraska company and the first on the Innovation Campus.”

With other major corporations looking to become part of the Innovation Campus, Green said, that’s “pretty exciting for the state.”

“The idea of them being here is that we plant business in the state that contributes to the economic development of the state through those kind of relationships,” he said.

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