STATE SUPPORT IS ONLY 42 PERCENT OF UNIVERSITY SYSTEM BUDGET
The numbers are astonishing: “The University of Alaska budget is being cut by 41 percent!” Or 42 percent! Or, as Rep. Gary Knopp told a crowd in Kenai on Friday, it’s being cut by 50 percent and the Kenai campus and all other regional campuses will have to close!!!
The Anchorage Daily News reported the university “faces a $134 million cut, or about 40 percent of its total budget. The cut is the largest ever proposed in the university’s 100-year history, University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen said in a news conference Wednesday after the cuts were announced. For scale, that cut exceeds the total operating budget for the University of Alaska Anchorage.”
100-year history? Are we really going to compare the budget of 1919, when it was established as the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines, when it had a student body of six? Today, the UAF alone has six rural and urban campuses: Bristol Bay Campus in Dillingham; Chukchi Campus in Kotzebue; the Fairbanks-based Interior Alaska Campus, which serves the state’s rural Interior; Kuskokwim Campus in Bethel; Northwest Campus in Nome; and the UAF Community and Technical College, with headquarters in downtown Fairbanks.
40 percent of its total budget? This sounds serious. But what is the Dunleavy budget actually proposing?
The correct answer is 17 percent of the university system’s total budget. It’s a good haircut, but it’s not 40-50 percent.
This is because the State of Alaska only funds about 42 percent of the university budget, and the proposal is to reduce that contribution to the University of Alaska by 40 percent. The University of Alaska needs to look elsewhere for the funds or restructure to adapt.
$135 million is proposed to be reduced from the 2019 management plan — that is the budget of the current year.
The university system is also being given $149 million in designated general fund receipt authority, which means it can raise its funds from tuition, federal land grants, alumni efforts or other funding sources.
AN OVER-RELIANCE ON STATE FUNDING
In a study of land grant universities, the University of Alaska Fairbanks ranked third for schools that received the most state funding. It’s only exceeded by the University of Puerto Rico and and University of the District of Columbia.
While the Alaska university system receives more than 40 percent of its funding from the State of Alaska, the average among land grant universities across the United States is 25 percent.
Oregon State University, where some Alaskans get their higher education, receives less than 17 percent from the State of Oregon. OSU gets $182 million in state funds to support the teaching of its 29,000 students.
Washington State University gets 20 percent of its funding from that state’s budget. And UC Berkeley gets only 14 percent of its funding from California taxpayers.
UAF gets $164 million from the State of Alaska, according to an analysis by the National Center for Education Statistics at the U.S. Department of Education. That supports 9,330 students, and comes out to a state subsidy of $17,577 per student per year, more than the state is spending for K-12 students’ education.
The University of Alaska’s over-reliance on state funding has been noted in the past by Moody’s. In 2017, Moody’s downgraded UA as a result: “The downgrade to A1 reflects the university’s material reliance on the State of Alaska with the resulting exposure to the fiscal and economic challenges of the state caused by low oil prices. With about half of UA’s operating budget, including on-behalf payments for pension and other post-retirement benefits, derived from state funding, we expect increased operating pressure at the university as the state addresses its significant structural imbalance.”
The top performing land grant universities intentionally diversify their funding sources by building endowments and developing substantial sources of non-state support from the private sector and federal government. They also develop educational programs of true national excellence, attracting students who will pay tuition and stay for more than two years. In so doing, these universities ensure organizational resilience.
At the same time the State of Alaska is underwriting the learning of students, the University of Alaska system is having to offer “zero level” classes to more than 61 percent of its incoming students, who are simply not ready for college coursework.
In a study by the university, freshmen are not coming into college prepared for four-year university work. Instead, they are having to retake high school classes once they enroll.
A RETURN TO THE COMMUNITY COLLEGE MODEL
As the governor suggests, now is an opportunity for the Board of Regents to restructure and return some of its satellite campuses to community colleges, where that remedial coursework is more appropriate. He is challenging the University system to meet the needs of students where they are, which, for more than half of them, means extended high school education.
The proposed UGF budget is based on $11,000 per full time equivalent student and is allocated into two components based on the current population of students: University Campus and Community Campus.
By refocusing funding toward student instruction on community campuses, the Dunleavy budget suggests that the University system can substantially reduce tuition for the first two years, and help finish the high school education that students didn’t get in their local school districts, so they’re prepared to complete either a four-year college degree or vocational training.
UNIVERSITY HAS QUALITY TROUBLES
The recent loss of accreditation of the University of Alaska Anchorage teaching programs is a red flag that stretches well beyond students who are unprepared for higher education. Higher education itself is struggling to come up to standard.
The programs that lost accreditation include the Early Childhood Education Bachelor of Arts and post-baccalaureate programs, Elementary Education Bachelor of Arts and post-baccalaureate programs, Secondary Education Master of Arts in teaching, and initial licensure programs in special education and early childhood special education. (University of Alaska Fairbanks and University of Alaska Southeast were not affected.)
Some 250 students who have invested months or years into their future profession can’t be sure they’ll have legitimate degrees when they graduate.
The university’s answer to this is ask the State Board of Education to allow the graduating seniors to be able to get a state license without accreditation, and to have the other students transfer to University of Alaska Southeast or Fairbanks to complete their degrees. It will take UAA’s Education program three years to get its accreditation back.
The Dunleavy Administration wants to encourage the university to transition the lowest-priority services to a self-sustaining funding model, suggests that research should seek private and federal funding, duplicated schools should be eliminated, and that a major fundraising campaign with the private sector is long overdue.