Board of Regents discusses FY18 budget and enrollment strategies, hears from experts on state higher education systems
The University of Alaska Board of Regents used its June meeting in Fairbanks to address the options for the university’s FY18 operating budget and agreed to reconvene later this month when the state budget is finalized by the legislature. The board also was briefed on enrollment strategies at UA’s three universities and on statewide higher education systems.
UA President Jim Johnsen presented budget scenarios, noting that UA must remain flexible in its budget preparation to adapt to a still undetermined FY18 appropriation. The legislature has yet to pass a state operating or capital budget, prompting university officials to develop plans ranging from $325 million unrestricted general funds (UGF) to $303 million UGF. UA has taken significant general fund cuts to its operating budget over the past three years, totaling $53 million. The reduction has led to downsized services and a loss of 933 employees statewide. The university still plans to prioritize and invest in strategic areas, including enrollment marketing and advertising, research, workforce development (e.g. nursing and teacher preparation), online program development and process automation. These focus areas are intended to strengthen the university’s academic programs and student services, diversify revenues and reduce long term costs.
Regents expressed concern about a continually unpredictable budget process and the effect reductions have had on the university community.
“We’ve actually lost 933 people, and that means there are fewer employees in the workforce and not buying groceries in the grocery store. There are local businesses struggling because of loss of employees here. There’s a real ripple effect in the community,” said Regent John Davies.
“Every time I look at that (workforce reduction) number and it’s increasing, it’s just devastating to me that UA has 933 fewer employees than two years ago. That’s a shocking number to me. It just tells our story in so many ways about what we are having to do – one person is having to do two jobs now, maybe more, as a result of our budget decrements,” said Regent Jo Heckman.
With regard to a “no budget” scenario, Johnsen said, "We are monitoring the state's progress very carefully, including guidance we receive from the state Office of Management and Budget. However, no decision about furloughs has been made. If we do find ourselves without an operating budget in the weeks ahead, I will consult with the Board of Regents and we will use our best efforts to maintain critical operations and services to our students and our communities."
Regents heard an enrollment strategies update from the president and the three university chancellors, who highlighted the opportunities and challenges of increasing student enrollment and retention. UA is in a unique position to meet the state’s workforce needs, as 65 percent of Alaska’s workforce will require some kind of post-secondary education by the year 2025. Chancellors noted the importance of data driven marketing and recruitment methods and the opportunity for UA to broaden Alaska’s economy by investing in knowledge-based solutions.
Regents also heard a presentation from two national experts on state university systems. Dennis Jones and Aims C. McGuinness Jr. with the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems used the architectural idiom “form follows function” to describe the importance of UA crafting a statewide structure that works for Alaska’s unique needs, not some other state’s structure. Jones told the regents that there are certain functions that can only be performed by the statewide system and others only by the campuses. He recognized that all UA staff and faculty share the same common goal of educating Alaskans, and emphasized that it is crucial that the statewide system create the conditions to ensure that everyone at UA can contribute to that goal.
Highlights of the two-day meeting included honoring recipients of the “Staff Make Students Count” awards, presented annually to staff across the UA system who go above and beyond daily to serve students and recognizing two retiring chancellors, Dana Thomas from UAF and Tom Case from UAA.
Four UA employees were honored with the “Staff Make Students Count” awards. The awards went to Wayne “Woody” Woodgate of UAA, Virginia “Ginny” Redmond of UAF, Auguste “Augie” Stiehr of UAS and Josh Watts of Statewide.
“It’s rare to find people with such passion and commitment to our students and to our universities,” said Board Chair Gloria O’Neill of UAA Chancellor Tom Case and UAF Interim Chancellor Dana Thomas, who retire on June 30.
All Board of Regents meeting agendas and documents are available online at http://alaska.edu/bor/agendas/. Photos of the “Staff Make Students Count” awardees are available at http://www.alaska.edu/opa/enews/2017/62.