UA Board of Regents Calls for More Financial Aid
ANCHORAGE--The University of Alaska Board of Regents wrapped up its two-day meeting on the Anchorage campus Dec. 1, 2009, by approving two resolutions supporting access to postsecondary education.
One supports legislation introduced in the state Legislature last year by Sen. Johnny Ellis and Rep. David Guttenberg to establish the Alaska Achievers Incentive Scholarship for need-based financial aid; and the other supports the Governor’s Performance Scholarship, based on rigorous course work and good grades in high school.
The issue was brought forward by Regent Ashton Compton, the student representative on the 11-member board. “I think it’s important that the board go on record that we support enhanced access to postsecondary education, workforce training and lifelong learning for Alaska students,” Compton said.
The board also adopted operating and capital budgets for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2010. The budgets include a $351.2 million request in state funds for day-to-day operations of the 15-campus system. That money would be matched by $514.5 million in UA-generated revenue for a total budget of $865.7 million. The operating budget places an emphasis on energy; science, technology, engineering and math (STEM); climate research; high-demand programs in teacher education, health, workforce programs and engineering; and student success initiatives aimed at improving retention and graduation rates. It also includes a 50-cent hike in student wages across the system.
Some Capital Ideas
Regents pared down the capital request this year, opting for a $199.3 million request that includes funding mostly for maintenance ($37.5 million). Regents elected to request state funding for just one new construction project, the Life Sciences facility on the Fairbanks campus. The $88 million in state funding for the classroom and lab building would be matched by $20.6 million in university issued revenue bonds. The project has been on the regents’ capital request list in one form or another for 10 years.
Gov. Sean Parnell has identified major maintenance across the state as a top priority for his administration. He proposes $37.5 million for UA facilities as part of a multi-year, multi-agency strategy, which aligns with the regents' No. 1 request as well.
Parnell also supports the state-UA partnership to build the Life Sciences facility, which would provide approximately 40,000 square feet of teaching space and 57,700 square feet of research space in one centralized location.
Construction of the Life Sciences facility will enhance the university’s competitive research position as well as replace aging labs and classrooms. The program is currently dispersed across the UAF campus in multiple locations of up to a mile apart, hampering the ability of faculty and students to interact as an integrated unit. Some graduate students and staff scientists are housed in nine ATCO trailers. Substandard teaching facilities and laboratories, particularly on the West Ridge, have long been identified as a major weakness to this statewide program. Construction of the project would infuse $170 million in direct and indirect economic output and employ an estimated 370 workers during the construction period.
UA research focuses on issues of statewide importance to Alaska. This particular facility would integrate research and teaching in the biological sciences, biomedicine and health, ecosystem and global change science, wildlife biology, population genetics, Alaska Native health including diabetes and cancer, toxicology and disease, environmental physiology, virology and neurosciences. Potential discoveries related to obesity, SIDS, aviation flu, food safety and nutrition, climate change, wildlife managment, heart attack and traumatic brain injury are just a few examples of the hundreds of research projects currently underway with long-term statewide benefits.
Working Group for Sports Arena
The UAA Sports Arena was not included on the regents' capital request list this year because of other, longstanding needs, primarily the Life Sciences project. A number of regents have had questions about the arena over the past year, which they want addressed before moving forward with a state request.
To proactively address those questions, regents formed a working group on the project to consider issues such as the arena's proposed location, design, seating capacity, traffic impacts and potential funding sources. Regents agreed the working group will help the university better plan for the project and move it forward.
About 10 Anchorage residents and athletics boosters at the Nov. 30-Dec. 1 urged regents to include the sports arena in their request for the coming year. Regents recognized their concerns, but want more time to ensure the project is done correctly.
“The university system has many needs across the state, and we can’t fund everything in one year. It’s our job to set priorities,” said Regent Carl Marrs of Anchorage. “As much as we would like to fund all these projects, such as a sports arena at UAA or new dorms at UAF, we have to make these tough decisions.”