Regents approve tuition increase, schedule budget retreat
The University of Alaska Board of Regents on Friday approved a 5 percent increase on tuition at campuses throughout the state.
The 8-2 vote came near the end of the regents’ two-day meeting in Anchorage. The change translates to an $8 to $11 per credit hour increase for an in-state undergraduate student.
In September, the board voted against a tuition increase. That was before oil prices dropped and the state’s fiscal scenario changed. Today, the university is anticipating a shortfall of at least $40 million, which includes cost increases for things like utilities, fixed costs, and salary and benefits, as well as an expected decrease in state funding.
“Our fiscal picture was quite different back in September,” said board chair Jo Heckman. “Since then our fiscal picture has collapsed around us.”
About 11 percent of the university’s revenue comes from tuition. UA tuition and fees are the second-lowest in the nation, among public baccalaureate institutions. Several regents noted at the meeting that students seem to understand the need for the tuition increase. No students spoke in opposition of the increase during public testimony.
“How fortunate we are that we have students who are our partners as we go through these challenging times,” Heckman said. “UA is a great university that provides a great education, and is a great bargain, and I think our students understand that.”
Budget concerns colored many of the board’s discussions. The shortfall is a moving target, said UA President Pat Gamble. “We won’t know until the legislature is through with their business and the governor has signed the budget.”
While the tuition increase is expected to raise about $5 million in additional revenue, and will contribute to closing the budget gap, he said it won’t solve the budget problem. And it’s important, he said, to protect the university’s core research, education and service mission, as well as the unique immersive nature of an education at the University of Alaska.
“We want to hold onto that,” Gamble said. “In Alaska, you are living it. In Alaska, you can really get your hands dirty.”
Teams at UAF, UAA and UAS have been working to do that, identifying cost-saving measures and core priorities. In addition to those processes, board members agreed Thursday to schedule a retreat in the next month to tackle the growing budget challenges and offer additional guidance on broad strategies to balance the budget.
The board also heard a report on the university’s transition to a common calendar statewide.
Starting in the fall of 2016, all UA campuses throughout the state will have a common calendar. That means alignment of the academic year, including things like spring break, finals, course withdrawal deadlines and class schedules, said UA vice president for academic affairs Saichi Oba during his report to the board.
The change comes in response to changes in higher education and the expectations of its students, Gamble noted. With the advent of online courses and a mobile student body, it is no longer feasible for a modern university to have different calendars for each of its campuses, he said. “We are in the middle of a transition right now, and this is a major milestone in that transition.”
Student regent Courtney Enright said the common calendar is good news for the students she represents.
“I am very excited that we have finally reached this point,” she said. “This will open up a lot of opportunities for collaboration within our university.”