University of Nebraska Promises Free College to In-State Students With Perfect ACT Scores

The program will cover all costs of attendance and provide a $5,000 stipend to in-state students with a perfect 36 on the ACT. Over the past three years, only 30 Nebraska students have done that.
portrait of Evan Castillo
Evan Castillo
Read Full Bio


Evan Castillo is a reporter on BestColleges News and wrote for the Daily Tar Heel during his time at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He's covered topics ranging from climate change to general higher education news, and he is passiona...
Published on February 9, 2024
Edited by
portrait of Darlene Earnest
Darlene Earnest
Read Full Bio

Editor & Writer

Darlene Earnest is a copy editor for BestColleges. She has had an extensive editing career at several news organizations, including The Virginian-Pilot and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She also has completed programs for editors offered by the D...
Learn more about our editorial process
Yiming Chen / Contributor / Getty Images
  • The university system hopes the new Presidential Scholars Program will incentivize high-achieving Nebraska students to stay in the state.
  • Only 22% of perfect-scoring ACT students in Nebraska and less than half of students scoring at least a 33 enrolled at the University of Nebraska.
  • The university system already offers a tuition-free scholarship to high-achieving students and another scholarship to students who are from families making $65,000 or less per year or who are Pell Grant-eligible.

The University of Nebraska (NU) system is giving students a free undergraduate education — if they get perfect ACT scores.

NU interim President Chris Kabourek and Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen announced the Nebraska Presidential Scholars Program on Feb. 5 for in-state students with a perfect 36 ACT score. The university system hopes the program will incentivize high-achieving students to stay in the state.

The program will cover tuition, fees, books, housing, and all costs of attendance, and provide a $5,000 annual stipend at any NU campus.

"Governor Pillen has challenged all of us to step up and work together to solve Nebraska's brain drain," Kabourek said in a press release. "I'm embarrassed that so many of Nebraska's best and brightest are leaving our state because they are enticed by more competitive offers. This new scholarship sends a strong message that we want these kids to stay in Nebraska and we are going to go compete for them."

Over the past three years, only 30 Nebraska students scored a perfect 36, and over 600 scored at least a 33, according to NU. Only 22% of perfect-scoring ACT students and less than half of students scoring at least a 33 enrolled at the University of Nebraska. The university wants 80% of students scoring 33 or higher to enroll.

NU also offers full tuition to high-achieving students through the Regents Scholarship and to low-income students through the Nebraska Promise at any campus.

The Regents Scholarship is available to in-state students with at least a 30 ACT score and who are either in the top 25% of their graduating class or have a cumulative GPA of 3.5 or higher.

Students who are from families making $65,000 or less per year or who are Pell Grant-eligible are automatically considered for the Nebraska Promise.

"This is a simple, but powerful, message to our best and brightest young people: We want you on Team Nebraska," Pillen said.

"As I travel around the state and talk to business and community leaders, something I hear again and again is that we need to do a better job of competing for talent. With the Presidential Scholars Program, we're going to compete. I'm proud to join with President Kabourek and the Board of Regents in putting this bold plan forward."

New Scholarship May Mean Wealthier Students, Higher Rankings for NU

Merit scholarships, like the Presidential Scholars Program, are ones that don't take into account financial need and are often ways for universities to enroll wealthier students, BestColleges previously reported.

"By doling out aid in the name of 'merit' to wealthier families, colleges can attract students who tend to have higher standardized test scores (the current test-optional environment notwithstanding) and better college completion rates, which boosts rankings and prestige and increases the likelihood of four years of tuition income," BestColleges senior writer Mark Drozdowski previously wrote.

Students from wealthier families are 15 times more likely to receive scores of 1500 or higher on the SAT than low-income students, according to a 2023 study by Opportunity Insights, a Harvard-based research group. Students from wealthy families are more likely to have access to test prep resources and be able to afford to take tests more than once.

Other disparities like school quality, neighborhood exposure, and other environmental conditions also affect high- vs. low-income test-takers, according to the study.