Board of Regents prepare for potential budget cuts, pass resolution in support of Alaska Performance Scholarship and Alaska Education Grant
On April 13 the University of Alaska Board of Regents heard an assessment from UA President Jim Johnsen and chancellors on contingency plans should the university receive budget cuts from the Alaska Legislature.
Currently, the House has passed an operating budget that would fund the university at $325 million – the same amount as requested by the governor. The Senate amount for the university is $22 million less, at $303 million. The Senate amount represents a 20 percent decrease in unrestricted general funds for university operations over the past four years.
“We are at the place now where we can’t take more incremental cuts. There are employees wearing multiple hats, doing so at less time per week in order to save the university money. The impacts of these severe budget cuts will become more and more serious,” Johnsen said.
Johnsen said the cut, if enacted, would lead to continued enrollment declines, a reduced ability to meet the state’s future workforce needs, the discontinuation of certain degree or certificate programs, reduced support for research, reduced funding for facility maintenance, and fewer faculty and staff providing assistance or service to students.
He emphasized the steps the university is already taking to achieve efficiencies including the Strategic Pathways process and the glide path budget plan that illustrates how the university would diversify revenue streams while becoming less reliant on state funds.
“We recognize the difficult fiscal position the state is in, so we proposed a gradual plan for reducing our reliance on state support. But instead of a glide path, it’s been a hard landing,” Johnsen said.
Chancellors from the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA), University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) and University of Alaska Southeast (UAS) gave an overview of the impacts additional cuts would have on their respective campuses. Notably, these impacts could include reducing student assistance programs, closing dorms, reducing more programs or course offerings at the community campuses, eliminating positions, reducing athletic scholarships, increasing fees and possibly tuition.
Despite budgetary challenges, the university remains committed to strategic investment priorities, including preparations for the emerging University of Alaska College of Education at UAS and developing productive partnerships with the Anchorage and Mat-Su School Districts through UAA.
Several regents expressed disappointment with the continued budget cuts, but said they remain committed to ensuring the university’s strength for the future.
“I want to encourage everybody to recognize that we will still be a strong university after these cuts, and I think we need to start thinking about how it will be different. We have to still try to maintain high standards and hold on to the good parts. The risk is that we are losing good people, and the sooner that we can have some kind of stability, even looking forward two years, would be good for the organization,” said Regent Sheri Buretta.
Regents unanimously passed a resolution in support of the Alaska Higher Education Investment Fund, the Alaska Performance Scholarship, and the Alaska Education Grant. The resolution is in response to an effort in the Alaska Legislature to end the Alaska Performance Scholarship and Alaska Education Grant programs.
“If these programs were to be eliminated, it would be a triple whammy for the university. It would lead to reduced access, yet another budget cut, and worst of all, by removing support for students it would impact our major goal as regents to increase attendance at the university. The removal of these two programs would significantly impact our ability to manage our way through these difficult times,” said Regent John Davies.
Student Regent Stacey Lucason noted the outcry she’s heard from fellow students worried about how they would be able to afford college without the Alaska Performance Scholarship.