The University of Alaska Board of Regents on a vote of 10-1 approved a $909.79 million budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, including the $334.8 million state appropriation. The action reflects cuts to balance the budget and addresses strategic reinvestments in eight key areas regents established in April. As part of their budget decisions, regents agreed with the university administration’s recommendation to use some of the additional state funds to offset a planned15 percent mid-year tuition increase and to explore issuing a UA bond to complete the engineering building at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Tuesday, the Alaska Legislature approved a budget appropriation $35 million greater than the $300 million the conference committee reported out in March. UA President Jim Johnsen proposed applying $9 million of the additional state revenue to offset a proposed mid-year tuition increase and invest the balance of $26 million in high-priority programs, services including deferred maintenance, K-12 outreach, teacher and health care education, research and Title IX compliance – all areas of critical importance to the university and the state.
The approved FY17 budget, while healthier than anticipated, still means that each campus and the statewide administration will realize substantial program and position reductions.
While the budget was a critical goal of the two-day meeting, it was not the only important issue considered by the regents. They received a presentation on student enrollment successes and barriers. The data put into perspective the challenges the university faces in light of declining high school graduation rates, low college going rates, reduced budgets for recruitment, and other factors that challenge Alaska students.
Dual enrollment credit is an important contributor to increasing student attainment and retaining students in Alaska for college. Mike Hanley, former commissioner of education and current assistant superintendent of the Chugach School District spoke in support of the program, which awards high school students both high school and college credit for courses they take through UA while still in high school.
“Lets raise our own,” Hanley said, “and make sure our students have these opportunities and steer them toward our own university.”
A presentation on the Alaska Native Science & Engineering Program (ANSEP) demonstrated the success of bringing rural students together to interact with the university, and to take advanced coursework unavailable in their home communities.
“We have the opportunity to make this available to every student in the state and change education in Alaska forever,” said ANSEP founder Herb Schroder.
Regents also heard a presentation from the McDowell Group on the results of a privately funded statewide public opinion poll. McDowell’s work also included individual interviews with leaders from around the state and an economic impact update that reflects the critical importance of the university to the state. All three documents underscore the vital role of the university in Alaska and the high regard Alaskans have for their university. The survey results can be found at alaska.edu/opa. Better understanding of how the public views the university will guide the university’s communications, marketing, recruitment and outreach efforts to engage industry leaders, alumni, and community members.
The Board also approved changes to how public testimony will be offered, which addresses the many requests for a more flexible means to provide input. Going forward the regents will take public testimony using audio lines much like the system used by the Alaska Legislature allowing residents anywhere in the state opportunity to call in to a moderated line for public testimony. In addition, regents will hold public receptions so that the public can talk directly with them.
“As we look at more program changes, we are going to have more input from the university and community,” said Board Chair Jo Heckman. “This will allow more input to the regents on Strategic Pathways and other important changes to the university.”
Regents endorsed the expedited review of three academic and four administrative programs through the Strategic Pathways framework. The review process will begin in June with options reported back to the board in September.