University of Alaska faces $50 million budget cut
The University of Alaska may experience a $50 million budget reduction for Fiscal Year 2017. UA relies on the state for nearly a third of its total revenue, but legislators are grappling with ways to fill in Alaska’s $4.1 billion budget deficit. As a result of the large budget cut, the future of hundreds of university jobs and some campuses is in jeopardy.
The University of Alaska Board of Regents requested an operating budget of $377 million, a $27 million increase from last year’s $350 million, but given the state’s tough economic time, this was not feasible. The House of Representatives passed an operating budget for the university of $300 million, a 14.6 percent reduction. The Senate passed an operating budget of $324.9 million, a 7.4 percent reduction. Governor Bill Walker proposed a budget of $335 million.
The legislature created a conference committee, comprised of three Senators and three Representatives, to reconcile the differences between proposed budgets from the two legislative bodies. Of the three possible budgets, the conference committee decided on the House budget. The bill passed five to one in the committee, with Rep. Les Gara, an Anchorage Democrat, casting the only ‘no’ vote.
Ramifications from the proposed budget cut include an estimated loss of up to 500 jobs, as well as a 15 percent increase in tuition at all campuses starting during the spring 2017 semester, said UA President Jim Johnsen at a Board of Regents meeting.
The UA Board of Regents previously passed a five percent tuition hike for the fall 2016 semester, so by the fall of 2017 tuition may be as much as 20 percent higher than it was during the 2015-2016 school year.
In addition to increased tuition, the student body will also have to cope with the possible elimination of one or more campuses and elimination of some athletics programs at the Anchorage and Fairbanks campuses, according to a UA Board of Regents Budget Contingency Planning and Strategic Pathways report. “In real dollar terms, these reductions take the university back to the late 1980s,” the document reads.
However, as of press time, budget discussions were not over yet, and it is possible that a portion of UA’s budget will be restored. The legislature still needs to pass the bill and the governor needs to sign it into law. Once a budget passes, the Board of Regents decides how the funds are allocated.
Nome Representative Neal Foster is hopeful that the conference committee will add $25 million to increase the budget to $325 million. He told Johnsen he did not want to see rural campuses disproportionately affected by the cuts, since the state constitution requires that education be provided. “It’s all about priorities. While I agree that every area (in the state budget) will see cuts I don’t agree that we should overly cut education,” Foster wrote in an email to the Nome Nugget.
Bob Metcalf, Director of Nome’s Northwest Campus, said the cuts would definitely affect Nome. The position of an English professor and Information Technology specialist are currently vacant, and will not be filled. “It’s a drag because that’s one less faculty member,” Metcalf said.
Metcalf said he is still unsure of the specific changes, but expects that the campus will be shutting down for longer periods of time, and therefore offering fewer courses. In addition, summer classes will be limited and the campus may be closed every other Friday for at least a portion of the day.
Like Foster, Metcalf is hopeful that the legislature will pass a larger budget. “There’s still room for last minute horse trading,” he said. No matter the outcome this year, NWC is already preparing for a similar situation for Fiscal Year 2018, “It’s scary to think about” Metcalf said.