The 11-member University of Alaska Board of Regents last week adopted operating and capital budget requests for the upcoming fiscal year.
On the operating side, the budget invests in key, high-demand education and workforce programs such as teacher education; health education; fisheries, seafood and maritime industries; and mining. It also invests in student advising and degree completion efforts that already are indicating significant student success as a result of previous years’ funding enhancements.
On the capital side, the dollars are expected to be very limited and the UAF engineering building completion ranks very high for FY16.
“Our focus under these uncertain economic conditions is to protect as much of a balanced, high quality, affordable education and training offering across the UA System as we can, while realizing at the same time we are going to have to give up being all things to all students,” said UA President Pat Gamble.
Gamble added, “We’ve already taken on substantial program reduction reviews and eliminated millions of dollars of cost through efficiencies and reductions. This effort has allowed us to manage over $17 million in state baseline funding reductions from FY14. Repeating those levels of reduction in FY16 will leave us little choice but to continue to offer less variety in our education and training programs. But let there be no doubt, we will not compromise on the quality of the superior education and workforce training that is currently afforded our students. That’s a compact we make with students, faculty and staff and it remains priority No. 1, no matter how dark the budget storm clouds may get.”
Gamble admitted, however, that looking down the road at another year or two of deep state reductions on the order of $17 million, in addition to the “must pay” annual fixed costs of operating 16 campuses across Alaska going up, which adds another $9 million to the budget gap, would likely place UA on a path to eventual unsustainability in its current form. That is a fundamental institutional issue that must be discussed and resolved, he said.
The operating budget request, approved by a 7-3 vote of the board, seeks $395.7 million from the state treasury. That money would be added to $576 million from university-generated sources such as federal grants, tuition and fees.
The capital budget request, at $98 million, seeks $50 million for a very large deferred maintenance condition existing across the UA System; $31 million to complete the engineering building at UAF; and $13 million in research specifically targeted at Alaska’s needs, including much expanded and safer unmanned aircraft systems operations in the Arctic; energy and remote power microgrid partnerships; and improved monitoring of earthquake and tsunami activity.
In addition to the serious budget talk, board members also heard good news in a number of academic areas and student achievement, including:
- An all-time high graduation rate of 32 percent across the UA System;
- Engineering degrees up 25 percent from FY10;
- Health degrees up 20 percent from FY10;
- Online academic offerings at the highest level ever (129 programs);
- Degrees and certificates awarded in FY14 at an all-time high and a 30 percent increase since FY10;
- Degrees in areas deemed high-demand, such as engineering and health care, up 22 percent from FY10 to FY14;
- More than $650 million in highly competitive external research funding brought in since FY10, with more than $118 million received in FY14 lone;
- Alumni giving increased by 100 percent over the past five years;
- And the UA Foundation reports FY14 private donations to the UA System at $23 million, a whopping 32 percent over FY13. (These donations must be used specifically where the donor directs, such as specific scholarships or programs.)
The FY16 proposed budget now will go to the governor for consideration and ultimately to the Alaska Legislature.
For more information, visit alaska.edu/bor.