Surprise: University budget is not being cut by 50 percent - Must Read Alaska
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Wednesday, October 27, 2021
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Surprise: University budget is not being cut by 50 percent

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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.


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.


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.


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.

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Written by

Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • It’s time for that college bubble to burst and not just in Alaska. Cut the useless programs like Women’s studies.

  • Suzanne,

    Did you happen across any information about how much land the UA land grant university owns and how that ranks among all land grant universities? I tried and all I could find is that UA has a lot more land than any of the individual universities that I looked into, some like DC were granted money instead of land obviously land is at a premium in DC. Seems to me if they used the land that was granted them they could get by without additional spending by the state year in and year out.

    • U of A owns about 145,000 acres of land, less than half the amount that was originally supposed to be conveyed to the university in 1915. That land has produced about $154 million since 1987, so the notion that the university can immediately offset these enormous cuts by developing its land grant is an episode in magical thinking. Talk to the legislature about fulfilling its land grant obligation, and then see where things wind up.

      In any event, so far as I’m aware, the governor has not articulated anything like the elaborate, dramatic vision for the university described in this piece. Where the hell is all this coming from, and why would any sane person expect it to be implemented immediately?

    • They are using the land, what little they have. The only land grant university that received less land from the federal government than the University of Alaska is the University of Delaware! (The University of Rhode Island got more land than us!) Read about it:
      Al check out for information about the management of the land. This is one reason that UA is more dependent on state funds that other state land grant universities.

    • So the more I look into this the more interesting it gets. If anybody can provide a list of how much land each university was granted and or currently owns, please let me know. The Federal Government has not done a very good job at fulfilling the grant portion of the Morrill Land-Grant Acts. There have been many changes to these acts over the years, and to further complicate matters each state has a different history with these acts and what they have done with them. To say that UA received the second least amount of land behind only the University of Delaware, as far as my limited research has shown is not correct, the 1994 land-grant colleges would be but one example of this. As originally passed each state was to receive 30,000 acres for each House Representative and each Senator for that state. The statehood act and a slow surveying process, along with political dealings is a big reason that UA never received all of the promised land. The University of New York received less than 10% of their promised land.

  • What is the final number going to be when matching grants are lost? That’s what will be affecting our communities. Will parents need to be paying out of State tuition if their children want to major in something besides petroleum engineering? Does the Dunleavey administration know or care? Expecting snap decisions (60 day) out of the legislature on the long term affects to their constituents is going. Donna Arduin is glib. Does the adminstration have any studies to back any of their cuts and their affects up or are they just going to shoot from the hip and mock anyone who is having troubles choking their glibness down?

    I should have voted for Treadwell, my wife was right.

  • When you major in Women’s Studies, you study politics, theory, literature, history, sociology, and psychology, all with a feminist perspective. It’s a wonderful thing to study and carries over into all walks of life and professions. Thought Catalog-five reasons why to major in WS.

    • Yes, yes Alaska employers need more unskilled angry leftist women. I say lets fully fund this Womens Studies deal and encourage all our girls to enroll so we can have gobs and gobs of AOC types to push neo-Marxist ideals upon us all.

    • So what kind of job can one get with this major? Heading up pussy hat demonstrations? Working with the likes of Anthony Wiener or Cory Booker?

    • Settle down, snowflakes. Women’s Studies is a minor at both UAA and UAF, not a major.

    • And let me guess…., Cam’s hero is Brett Kavanaugh’s antagonist. The liar Democrat, women’s studies freak who put this entire country into turmoil during the US Supreme Court confirmation hearings last September. This is the kind if trash you get with women’s studies. Send her and her followers to the garbage pit where they belong.

      • From Christine Blasey Ford’s Wikipedia page:

        “She earned an undergraduate degree in experimental psychology in 1988 from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She received a master’s degree in clinical psychology from Pepperdine University in 1991.In 1996, she received a PhD in educational psychology from the University of Southern California. Her 1995 dissertation was entitled Measuring Young Children’s Coping Responses to Interpersonal Conflict. In 2009, she earned a master’s degree in epidemiology, with a focus on the subject of biostatistics, from Stanford University School of Medicine.”

        That puts her grand total at 4 degrees (one bachelor, two masters, and one PhD), none of which were in the field of women studies.

  • Great informative article, Suzanne. It sure would be nice if much of the thinking behind the proposed reductions was being communicated to the public by the Governor’s office.

    The problem with having to offer high school courses at the UA is long-standing. Unless quality improves at the high schools, it will remain and it may not be necessarily cheaper to accomplish via community colleges, with still more administrative overhead. And it should be noted that the Governor proposes to cut the Foundation support program to K12 education by about $300 million.

    Although UA has alternatives to raise money and my favorite is through the UA land trust, in the short run they are looking at a $134 million problem. And that is going to mean significant job losses. I would suggest that improving quality is a wonderful goal but it will require more than desire or compulsion to achieve. Resources matter.

    Thank you for the article.

  • The School of Nursing is an excellent school.

    However, the School of Education is a certified joke. My daughter has known for years she wanted to work in Eatly Childhood Development and specialize in Special Needs Children. She was enrolled in UAA and working a full time job downtown and a part time job on weekends. Now, her dream of staying home while going to UAA are gone, and she has a hard decision to make about leaving Anchorage or going to Fairbanks, the Southeast or outside Alaska. This is a situation brought about by a failure of leadership.

    Perhaps this budget crises will wake up the UA to fact that if they want to be a university and not a community college, they need to find other sources of funding and they need the best they can get for administrators.

  • There are some apples to bowling balls comparisons in here; I’d like to provide a little context. I am not familiar with every single land grant university, but I think UA is unusual, perhaps unique, of the land grants in serving as the community college system, the teaching college system, and the research university for the state. UA has consistently been told to do this by the state, so blaming them for following orders is odd. If one compares the UAF main campus, our state’s one research university, to other research universities of similar size, I think you’ll find that they are doing fine in terms of per capita research funding. UA’s efforts at building endowments leave something to be desired, but there also aren’t a lot of gazillionaire donors to be found in the state. Alaska lawmakers have consistently requested that all UA campuses be essentially open enrollment at the undergrad level, so that puts a ceiling on how excellent you can make a university. It is also worth noting that all federal grant dollars that come into the university are expected to be spent on the designated grant task, so getting more research funding will not greatly lower instructional costs. A lot of grants pay grad student tuition, and some percentage goes into the general pot for the university, but it mostly cannot be apportioned to teaching students. Everywhere, instructing undergrads is mostly funded through either tuition, state subsidies, or endowments.

    • Let me guess: this Research Professor is researching man-made climate change at UAF. Aren’t they all?

      • That’s a good bet!

        • You would lose your money. My politics are far to the right of most university professors, which is why I don’t reveal my name on comment boards. For the record, my position is that it is irrelevant whether humans cause climate change because there have been no remotely viable solutions proposed.

      • C’mon Tom! It’s HUman-made climate change. Get with the program.

      • C’mon Tom! Everyone knows it’s HUman-made climate change. Get with the program!

        • Heard you the first time. Lol. Women also bring their fair share of warming to the table.

  • Now this is journalism! It is well researched, well written, and based on fact and reason instead of hyper-bias and hatred of anybody and anything not in lockstep with “progressive” socialism. The plain enough perspective of these thoughts is supported with a balanced presentation of something approximating logic and not a fearmongering sensationalism. What a rare thing! It is seriously sad that today’s “news” sources have almost no one like this left in their ranks. My congratulations to you is paired with my gratitude for a Governor who can obviously think for himself and buck the tide of mindless vitriol that will be vomiting up on his shore. May he find guts and grace to push past the hatred and slander that will assail him.

  • Perhaps the person who came up with the 50% number learned their math in Alaska’s public school system.

  • Significant cuts have been made to state funding for UA since 2014, cuts that have been felt by folks on the ground–those of us teaching and providing other services to students. Coupled with a decline in enrollment, it hasn’t been easy. But the cut Dunleavy proposes is massive compared to what has come before. Most the characterizations of the cut (a cut to state funding) have been clear. Some of the quotes identified by the authors can be read as ellipitical statements referring to budgeted state funding.

  • This is incorrect: “The Alaska university system 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.”

    I think Downing means to be talking about the University of Alaska Fairbanks, not the UA system. The enrollment numbers cited fit UAF. UAF recieves $164 million and I’ve found enrollment numbers citing 9,330 for UAF. But UAF is a research institution. The disproportionate amount of funding can be explained in light of this. Downing should compare state funding for UAF with other public R1 schools (schools designated “R1: Doctoral Universities – Highest research activity” by Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education.) (It still might be that UAF gets a disproportionate amount of state funding compared to other such schools, I don’t know.)

    This mistake is really unfortunate, since it misrepresents how much is being spent by the state to subsidize student’s education and keep tuition low. (It’s also good to keep in mind that the universities serve many other functions that benefit the state, such as archives, museums, agricultural research stations, libraries, geophysical and geothermal research and applications. So, the state money should not be thought of exclusively as a subsidy for students. This particularly applies to UAF but also applies to the considerable research and community service provided by UAA and UAS.)

    By comparison to the numbers Downing cites consider that UAA received about $120 million from the state last year and according to NCES has 15,733 students, which comes out to $7,627 per student.

    It puts the magnitude of the proposed cut into perspective when we consider that the UA cut ($134 million) exceeds the entire funding received by UAA last year from the state ($120 million). Add to that the failure to discuss the meager land grant UA received from the federal government and UAA’s recent renewal of university accreditation, and the the entire thrust of Downing’s article begins to sound disingenuous and misleading.

    Yes, the UA schools have the ability to raise tuition to make up for the budget short fall but if UAA did that I think it would price itself out of existence or at the very least would not serve the many working families, first generation college students, and other non-traditional students it exists to serve.

  • Suzanne, well done article. Thanks for the facts and actual percentages and numbers.

  • I would suggest that the level of discourse in this article and the comments to it are higher and more probing than has or will occur in the Governor’s office or the Legislature. A fine forum, Suzanne.

  • Shame on ADN for parroting the talking points of the University and kudos to Downing for the true investigative journalism.

  • John Davies, head Regent of the Board of Regents, is holding a couple of “listening sessions,” or what the old lefty should have referred to as Dunleavy Hate Syndrome Sessions. Davies, former State House member, lost a State Senate race to Fairbanksan Ralph Seekins years ago. Then, Davies got Luke Hopkins elected to FNSB Mayor’s seat in 2009. Hopkins, an unqualified mayor, was the mouthpiece; Davies the thinker/ architect. Davies agenda was to get rid of wood stoves in Fairbanks. That drove Fairbanksans nuts, as many folks in the Interior rely exclusively on wood as a heat source during cold winters. Davies could care less, as he is now the defacto talking point head for the UA system on man-made climate change research. His apparent goal is to change the Last Frontier University into the world’s research center for man-caused global warming. But for Dunleavy’s budget reductions, Davies mission was going strong. Davies is a radical environmentalist who also serves as FNSB Assembly member. His ONLY goal is to disrupt Dunleavy.

  • You are SO correct, Gypsy. John Davies uses all of his positions within the state and local government structures to force his man-made global warming agenda, and foist it on the public. The greatest hoax in the 20th and 21st centuries, that our planet is heating up. Or cooling down. Or getting blown away. Or getting flooded. Or burned down by fires. Or blanketed by snowstorms. All because man is doing it by burning fossil fuels. Yes, the very product (oil) that the UA research scientists rely on in order to get the state revenues to study the hoax endlessly. An irony of epic proportions with a foundation built on total fraud. No wonder the UA system is a second or third rate education system. Professors no longer teach foundational studies. It’s all man-made global warming, cultural studies, women studies, etc. The UA system is full of fraud, corruption, graft, receipt and overpaid Liberals who couldn’t cut it outside of the university system. No critical thinking skills taught there. Just the mind numbing, brain-washing “listening session” designed to get students to believe and perpetuate the Big Hoax. Such dishonesty at UA. Hopefully, the Dunleavy budget will send these liars and hoaxsters out of the state, close the unnecessary satellite UA campuses and put common sense back into the word “education.”

  • You are so spot on, Marla. These UA regents have a political agenda. I hope Dunleavy gives it to them good and unmasks these frauds. It appears that the UA’s primary mission is to push the socialist’s myth and hoax regarding man-made climate change. This is what drives the research dollars and seems to be the main topic in the classrooms. The Liberal professors preacj this agenda, and are little more than religious messengers of the Left.

  • Alaska ranks 47th out of the USA’s 50 states in the sustainable development index. Under Dunleavy’s shock-therapy budget it’s headed for #50. Public spending on education and other critical services is a check on democracy-eroding inequality and ignorace. This is why states like Massachussets rank highest on the sustainable development index–they invest in education and critical infrastructure as a means of economic development and diversification. Sure the University could diversify its income stream more, but it has already diversified its income more than the state has. And its options to do it through grants (mostly from federal sources) and tuition increases are already near maximum. Strong state investment in higher education to diversify its economy is the right recipe for sustainable development. It takes significant funding because costs are higher in Alaska, and alternative revenue sources are more limited in a small (population) state. Using a shock therapy budget (or it’s alternative- death by a thousand cuts) to turn the University into a glorified community college system because K-12 isn’t working (and will get worse with funding cuts) makes no sense. It is regressive. We will end up with young people ill-equipped to build a new, more diversified economy in Alaska. Alaska will become a colony for the richer, smarter people, most of whom will come from outside with their carpet bags to carry away it’s wealth with little regard for our state’s fiscal health or environment. We’ve had that too in Alaska, and it wasn’t the answer to sustainable development.

    • Excellent comment.

  • First of all Thank You Suzanne for doing the research. Secondly I agree with Gypsy, Marla and Johnnie.
    I am glad my son and daughter did not want to attend UAF. Our family ideals are contrary to the socialist preaching at UAF.

    • UAF’s new coal-fired powerplant is a living testament that coal will continue to be a heat and power source for the next 100 years. All those grad students must be highly confused, watching the smoke columns rise in the 40 below air while their lecturing professor explains how the combustion of coal causes global warming. Maybe Dunleavy can shut down UAF for awhile and get rid of the $150,000/year idiots who teach our kids.

      • Those $150,000 a year” idiots” have PHD’s and can go elsewhere anytime. Some of the best and brightest teach at the UAF. Without them there would be no UAF.

        • Uhh … read MNASTT’s last sentence. “ ….. shut down UAF for a while and get rid of $150,000/yr. idiots who teach our kids.” I would edit that to read ….. idiots who willfully lead our kids into dark and irrational ideology.

      • UA professor salaries are a matter of public record. Full professors in engineering are not making anywhere near $150K a year, and they are in the upper tier of professor salaries. Professors in social sciences make considerably less. Likely half of your number if that. Adjunct faculty make even less, likely a couple thousand a semester per class. Compare that to the fact that almost all of the UA system’s majors are accredited, so that means the professors in all those programs are meeting standards. Professors are doing a good job, often having to deal with underprepared students graduating from Alaska’s public schools. I don’t think going after professors because of erroneous information about their pay is at all appropriate.

        If you want someone to beat up on salaries, feel free to go after athletics team coaches and some of the high-level administrators in the UA Statewide system. Unfortunately, even cutting entire athletics programs and chancellors will be a drop in the bucket. 140 million is no joke, and hard, hard cuts are going to have to be made.

        This is not a time to be glib. Jobs and futures are at stake, and, as an Alaskan, I do value a healthy, robust UA system. I don’t think you get there by chop-blocking the state funding by that large a number.

  • Great discussion points . The gov has to be commended for bringing in an outside consultant without emotional ties to the state. The university is a bureaucracy that needs to be vetted. It take extreme proposed budget cuts to jolt the bureaucracy into taking a hard look at its costs and revenue streams. It take financial pressures to force evaluations and weed out unproductive or inefficient practices. But the real pressure has to come from revenue sources. As an example, as long as gov is willing to increase student loans to cover increased tuition, there will be less incentive for the bureaucracy to economize. I look forward to more comments and information revealed by both the university and third parties on both administration and labor cost. I believe the public will be amazed by these numbers. But, if the university budget process is similar to local school districts, the legislature will only have authority over the total and not line items.

  • We get it. It is time for an income tax or taking part of the PFD or both. A 5 percent income tax and taking $1500 from the PFD will create $1.7 billion. That is a much better plan than the harm caused by Dunleavy’s massive cuts. We can handle that but losing 16000 jobs as ISER projected is not acceptable.

    • Don’t know if you are one of those overcompensated employees of Alaska’s overfunded epic failure of a so called education system … but even if you aren’ could not have advocated any stronger for it.. Never mind that Alaska ranks the top of $$ spent per student and ranks at the bottom of student performance.. let’s just keep pouring more and more $$ to a failed system.

  • This is either the most dishonest articles that I’ve ever read or the author is simply misinformed. First of all, yes, the state is cutting their portion of UA’s budget by 41% and that is only a 17% direct cut. What is dishonest about stopping the story there, however, is that much of the federal money that UA brings in depends on state matching funds. If those matching funds are cut, the university will lose the federal money also, so the percentage will be significantly higher than 17% when that happens.

    Another ill-informed point in the article is the issue of the percentage of students that come into the university needed developmental courses. It is actually around 50%, but many of those need a single developmental course. Others need more. The fact that students are underprepared is not the university’s fault. Since Alaska is so huge, the fact that there is only one university, and there is very little infrastructure, UA lets all interested applicants come in to the university and so they provide students with the developmental courses that those students need. This is a service and not something that people should be criticizing the university for. Dunleavy’s idea of sending the community campuses back into a community college system, each with their own bureaucracy, isn’t a new idea. Its the way it used to be prior to around 1989. It’s reinventing the wheel and doesn’t change anything. First of all, most of Alaska doesn’t have access to a community college. They are still going to have to move into one of the places that has one, just like they have to do now.

    When the men wrote the Alaska State Constitution and worked to have Alaska accepted as the 49th state, they knew that Alaska would not be like the other states. They knew that the state government would always have to play a disproportionate role in supporting services for Alaskans, including education. This is due to the large size of Alaska, the lack of infrastructure, and the small, spread out population. They wrote support of education into the Alaska Constitution to ensure that those politicians that followed them would realize that Alaska will always need that state support. To now act like, OMG, Alaska is different from the other states, as if its a surprise, is ignorant.

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