Tuition was the main topic during public testimony presented to the University of Alaska Board of Regents Wednesday at its November meeting in Anchorage. Representatives from student government organizations across the system presented varying degrees of support for a tuition increase, with some campus student organizations fully supporting the proposed nine percent increase and others wanting to hold that line at five percent.
Student leaders agreed that students should help the university face the looming budget shortfall. “I personally support the tuition increase to help fund the financial gap,” said Kenai Peninsula College representative Jayce Robertson. “However, the tuition increase should only be a portion of financing the gap. Please keep close to your hearts and minds that the backbone of the university is the students.”
The testimony was reflected in the Board’s final action. After robust discussion, the Board of Regents voted in favor of a five percent across-the-board increase for the academic year beginning Fall 2016.
“I appreciate the perspective and sincere intentions of the board, as well as the thoughtful testimony of our students,” Johnsen said. “I am proud of our students and in what they had to say today. We’ll get to work to figure out what we need to do to adjust the budget, keeping in mind our mission and steadfast commitment to providing the highest quality education possible.”
Regents also approved a fiscal year 2017 operating budget that reflects a 7.6 percent increase over the current year’s budget. The university’s $960 million total budget includes a request from the state for $350 million, and receipt authority of $582.9 million in federal grants, tuition, philanthropic support, fees and other non-general fund revenue sources.
Johnsen and the Regents acknowledged that this request is contrary to guidance from the Office of Management and Budget, which called for a $15.8 million reduction from FY16 with no new incremental request, but wanted to make sure that legislators saw what is really the true cost of delivering quality education and meeting contractual obligations in the coming year. The difference between the guidance and the budget approved by the Regents is a $40 million gap that will require internal reductions and reallocations to meet.
A $134.8 million FY17 Capital budget featuring completion of the UAF engineering building, deferred maintenance funding, and renewal and repurposing funds was approved unopposed.
“Like the operating budget, the capital budget represents what we believe we need,” said Johnsen.
The UAF engineering building was partially funded in FY16 but sits unfinished on the Fairbanks campus. It is the highest priority project for the regents and university system.
Johnsen and the chancellors are working hard on a budget scenario that reflects the state’s fiscal reality. There will be ongoing discussion with the Board of Regents through out the fiscal year to inform the process.
Prior to commencing on FY17 budget approvals, Vice President of Academic Affairs and Research Dan White reported on Shaping Alaska’s Future Theme Five: Accountability to the People of Alaska. The report helps inform Regents’ budget discussions by showing how universities are managing their budgets and utilizing the investments made in facilities and programs. “There is a lot of effort going into accountability on our campuses,” White said.