Voice

Alaska Needs Engineers

A community perspective from UAF Chancellor Brian Rogers and UAA Chancellor Tom Case

UAF and UAA will both break ground on new engineering buildings on the Fairbanks and Anchorage campuses very soon thanks to the initial investment made by the legislature. Finishing those facilities to educate more engineers instate is critically important to Alaska’s future economic development, so let’s build more than just a foundation.

We have a great story to tell. Both UAF and UAA campuses have extreme need for the new classroom and laboratory space to support growing engineering programs, some of the largest programs on both our campuses. We face an increased demand by students and industry alike for modern and adequate facilities to provide a quality educational experience to train our engineers in Arctic conditions. Students tell us they sometimes work on projects in their own garages because our facilities are not adequate -- we look forward to providing the necessary facilities and equipment to bring them into the 21st century.

The engineering programs at UAA and UAF are complementary and collaborative, with 22 academic degree programs serving a growing number of students. Program enrollment in undergraduate engineering, critical to increasing the number of graduates, has grown significantly, from 806 in fall 2007 to 1,009 in fall 2012 - a 41 percent increase. This doesn’t count graduate engineering degrees.

The need is there, the support is there, and we are ready to make this happen. Industry will continue to support the university IF they realize a return on their investment. These facilities are an integral part of this equation.

Since 2006, private gifts from nearly 900 individuals and corporations totaling more than $29 million to UA Engineering programs demonstrate strong support from alumni, friends, corporations and foundations, providing student scholarships, equipment, and program support.

Alaska faces a shortage of qualified engineers. To respond to the state’s need, the University of Alaska Board of Regents set a priority to more than double the annual number of baccalaureate graduates to 200. The number of baccalaureate engineering degrees awarded each year has grown from 72 degrees in 2007, when the UA Board of Regents adopted this initiative, to 143 degrees awarded in spring 2012. We have the potential to graduate 200, but outdated engineering classroom and laboratory spaces on both campuses hold us back.

The Alaska Department of Labor's current projections through 2018 indicate an average of 120 engineering jobs will be available each year: 50 new engineering jobs and another 70 openings from annual turnover and retirement.

Alaskan employers prefer to hire UA graduates because of their education, understanding of arctic engineering principles, and likelihood of remaining in Alaska. Note here that BP hires more engineers from the University of Alaska than any other university in the United States.

Alumni and industry leaders statewide understand the need for qualified engineers in Alaska and are providing extraordinary advocacy efforts for engineering buildings on our two campuses. We thank the legislature and the governor for providing the funding that is allowing us to commence construction
on both facilities.

However, we will be left with building shells unless we receive the remainder necessary to complete both structures ($108.6 million). The UA Board of Regents has requested funding for the ‘other half’ of the buildings. If we receive the required funding this session, we will be on track to open the doors at both new facilities by fall semester 2015.

We recognize this is a heavy lift for the legislature and the governor. At a time when we are faced with decreasing state revenues and more demands on state dollars, it is important to recognize these facilities as an investment in our future.

We may be competitors on the hockey rink, but we stand united in fulfilling the demand for engineers in Alaska and beyond. We believe that it is critical we work together so the University can meet the demands of the state and of the engineering industry. Let’s finish what we started.

For more information, please contact:
Ann Ringstad at ann@alaska.edu or 907-978-3322

A new power plant: UAF needs one; state leaders should support it

Editorial

The power plant at the University of Alaska Fairbanks is hardly out of sight, but we need to keep it in mind as the legislative session continues.

The main boilers at the plant are 49 years old, while the average age of buildings on the UAF campus is 33 years. But the UAF power plant is no average building.

It is probably the single most important structure on the campus, as the university cannot operate without the heat and light generated from the plant.

We urge our governor and legislators to acknowledge this critical piece of infrastructure and include money in the budget to continue the process of replacing the plant.

If the power plant fails for one reason or another, it would be impossible to provide emergency relief by simply connecting the campus to the Golden Valley Electric Association grid.

That’s because the UAF power plant produces both heat and light. Heating with oil alone would mean a tripling or quadrupling of energy costs, which is hardly a sensible alternative to the present steam-heat system.

The UA Board of Regents has asked for $22 million for planning and design of a new power plant. For our university system, this is the most important project under review by lawmakers and the governor. The campus buildings have about 3 million square feet requiring heat throughout the winter. It is efficient to create both heat and light from the combustion of coal, and there are no real economic alternatives for the campus.

If we don’t move quickly, the power plant will require tens of millions of dollars in maintenance to keep it operating for the next decades.

A new plant is expected to cost about $240 million. It is crucial for the future of UAF that this project move forward. Without it, the costs of running UAF would climb sharply.

Of the $22 million the university is seeking, about $7 million to $8 million would be spent in the next fiscal year, UAF Chancellor Brian Rogers said.

At a minimum, the Legislature and governor need to recognize the design of a new power plant has to get started and that the money is needed now.

Capitol Report: Operating Budget Updates

From Chris Christensen
Associate Vice President for State Relations

Distributed March 18, 2013

Operating Budget Updates

Since the last Capitol Report was posted, a great deal has happened in Juneau. On March 14, the House passed an operating budget and sent it to the Senate for consideration by that body. And on March 15, the Senate’s University Budget Subcommittee sent its recommendations on UA’s operating budget to the full Senate Finance Committee.

House Budget

As previously reported, the House Finance Committee decided to substantially reduce the FY14 operating budget for all agencies that had been proposed by the governor.   The final reductions are
substantial: the budget passed by the House last Thursday proposes $71 million less for agency operations than does the budget submitted by the governor. In fact, it is actually about $4 million less than the all-agency operating budget for the current year.

The university’s share of this $71 million reduction is $2.65 million. The governor had proposed a 2.9% increase for the university from the current year’s budget, and the House budget only makes a 2.2%
increase. The increase includes full funding for the scheduled salary and benefit increases for university employees, funding for two of the Board of Regents’ high demand programs (Bristol Bay nursing program for $55,000, and the UAS Center for Mine Training director for $90,000), and $407,800 to be spent at the university’s discretion.

However, it fails to fund millions of dollars in fixed cost increases, such as new building operating costs; it takes $250,000 from the Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER) that was being used
to fund education policy research; and it does not fund any of the other increments for high demand programs that were requested by the Board of Regents.

Senate Budget

The Senate’s University Budget Subcommittee, chaired by Senator Anna Fairclough, met several times last week to take testimony on the university’s operating budget. On Friday, the members sent a
recommended budget to the Senate Finance Committee.

The subcommittee recommended full funding of the governor’s budget proposal; it did not reduce that budget the way the House did. In addition, the subcommittee recommended funding an extra $600,000 for fixed cost increases, and an extra $1.5 million for high demand programs that were requested by the Board of Regents. This means that the Senate subcommittee’s proposed budget is approximately $4.7
million more than the budget passed by the House. The items added to the governor’s budget are:

Fixed Cost Increases:

  • Aviation facility lease costs at UAA Chugiak Eagle River Campus: $32,900
  • Improved campus safety and security systems at UAA (Anchorage, Kenai, and Mat-Su): $330,000
  • Lease and operating costs of the UAF Process Technology Program: $275,000

High Demand Programs:

  • Mandatory Comprehensive Student Advising efforts Systemwide: $400,000
  • Mining Regulatory Training and Certification Program: $200,000
  • Alaska Small Business Development Center at UAA: $356,100
  • Nursing Program at the Bristol Bay Campus: $55,000
  • University of Alaska Press Office at UAF: $200,000
  • Enhanced eLearning Program at UAF: $250,000
  • Director Position for the Center for Mine Training at UAS: $90,000


The subcommittee’s funding recommendation will now go to the full
Senate Finance Committee. That committee will took up agency budgets during the week of March 25.

The committee intended to amend the operating budget during the week of March 25, and then it sent the budget to the Senate floor for a vote. Once the bill has passed the Senate, a conference committee made up of three members of the Senate and three members of the House will be appointed. The conference committee will have the job of reconciling the very different versions of the budget passed by the House and Senate. The university could end up with the House budget, the Senate budget, or somewhere in between.

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For more information, contact Associate Vice President Chris
Christensen at cschristenseniii@alaska.edu or visit
www.alaska.edu/state.

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