University budget cuts will harm Alaska’s economy

University of Alaska


Alaska’s economy is facing a serious threat due to the governor’s cuts to the University of Alaska.  While these effects are very broad-based, I focus on the proposal of the Office of Management and Budget to delete 100 percent of the general state funding for UA research.  These cuts will have very negative impacts to Alaska’s economy.

Enacting this proposed cut will put at risk more than $100 million a year in non-state funding which makes possible the ongoing research and graduate student support at UA.  Research grants and contracts are highly competitive and almost always require matching funds.

The OMB cut would eliminate the source of these matching funds making UA non-competitive.  This would effectively eliminate UA’s ability to attract and support graduate students and professors, maintain the research institutes, and purchase necessary equipment and instrumentation. UA will no longer be able to undertake the research necessary to make Alaska’s current and future economy successful.

Without research, Alaska will have to go “outside” to attempt to recruit the trained scientists and engineers needed in industry and government.  Alaska will rapidly lose its role as the world leader in developing new technologies, methods, and information for development of non-renewable and renewable resources in the Arctic. The University’s important partnerships with key federal agencies including the Department of Defense, Department of Interior, Department of Commerce and the National Science Foundation to address natural hazards will be greatly diminished or ended. Alaskans will be more vulnerable to future earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, fire, and flood.

OMB argues that the cuts can be absorbed because UA should be able to follow the example of the wealthy and elite private outside Universities including Harvard, Yale and Stanford who don’t require general fund money from their respective states.  What OMB fails to acknowledge is these universities have endowments ranging from $26 billion to $39 billion which have built up over generations.  I’m quite confident that UA wouldn’t need state general funds for research if it was gifted an endowment that is equivalent to more than half the permanent fund. OMB’s unfounded assumptions that UA can find alternative funding to offset these proposed cuts in the next year are pure fantasy. I maintain hope that the ultimate decision makers will understand the reality and true impacts of these cuts to Alaska.

I have been involved with research and development in Alaska from many different perspectives (oil and gas exploration, state government, University of Alaska, federal government, technology start-up and private consultant). In all these roles I, like thousands of others, relied upon the products of UA research.

As an energy and natural resources consultant who has worked with governments across the world, I have seen this pattern of slash and burn budgeting result in long term economic downturn and associated mass exodus of the skilled worked force.  I hope that it is not too late for Alaska to avoid this fate.

Mark Myers received his PhD in Geology from UAF and was an exploration and development geologist, Director of Division of Oil and Gas, State Geologist, Commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources, Vice Chancellor of Research for UAF and the Director of the United States Geological Survey.  He is currently an energy and natural resources consultant.


  1. I don’t understand. If the research projects cost money rather than bringing income to the university, then they’re liabilities not assets. So how is it that these research projects improve the economy? Show me the money!

  2. While I’m sure that to some extent the UA reductions will hurt the Alaskan economy, the bottom line is that our state can’t afford to subsidize the UA system at present levels. There are plenty of Alaskans that would rather have a larger PFD than pay for some of the exorbitant salaries the UA system seems to provide. Perhaps the UA should look into selling some of their land holdings to help fund operations.

  3. The grant system is a racket and not a reason to continue funding a university system with one of the lowest graduation rates in the nation. This is how it works all too often….When one grant runs out of money, the next one is also mismanaged in an effort to meet the costs that should have been met by the first grant. You end up spending future earnings on credit, borrowing from one grant to repay another. It can only work for as long as there’s another grant coming in.

    And there is often unintentional mismanagement. Sadly, a lot of people with impressive resumes turn out to be lousy managers of finances and clueless when it comes to administration. Putting large sums of money into the hands of people like that is not a recipe for success.

  4. The budget cuts on the University won’t harm the economy of Alaska….Why? Because the world does not turn around the University in Fairbanks or Anchorage or any other campus. Why? Because there are many choices that are not the University in either of those places. The university problems are associated to the scheming it took to get in this bad position of waste of money and too much scheme spending.. The world turns and turns and turns. But the good thing is that the budget brought out a lot of poor management of the whole system. So, its a good thing to make serious changes….but it still won’t harm the economy of Alaska just because the state needs a budget to live with. Glad we have a Governor that has the fortitude to put a budget together for the sake of the state coffers and those who live in Alaska. Will we be fine? Yup!! And so will the economy……

  5. The Alaska university system is already non-competitive. It’s full of bureaucrats who actively steer students against the best interests of Alaska. I’m speaking from experience. Tenured professors get paid 6-figure salaries for a sub-par performance. Enrollment is down due to the heavy social justice bend, lack of diversity where it matters, and the fact that they are cutting the most profitable programs (namely cios). They will tell you that cios wasn’t profitable, but I was there. It was the only program that was growing instead of shrinking. (Anecdotal I know.). But visit the southeast campus….it’s a joke.

  6. So, if cutting the U of A budget is harmful, should we somehow believe that maintaining a bloated budget, or increasing the bloated budget, it is somehow beneficial? It’s too much of a ‘stretch of imagination’ and people are tired of the ‘creative’ accounting as well as the disingenuous management.
    At what point does the SOA start reining in these bloated budgets and start eliminating waste and inefficiency?
    Maybe(?), the U of A should focus on core strengths and dispose of programs that outside institutions can provide cheaper and more efficiently?

  7. The large number of Univ. employees in Fbks. makes for a large pro govt. spending block. Coupled with an over size borough employee block and we are stuck with a continual growing borough budget. 5 of 7 assembly members are Univ. employees. Property taxes go up every year.
    I am so ready for a large cut to that money pit of a University and a large exodus of laid off U. employees! I will gladly take whatever decrease in my properties value comes.

  8. People should stick to
    their area of expertise.



  9. I completely disagree.

    It may hurt in the short term, restructuring the UA system to be less wasteful can only help in the long term. The UA system props up quite a few programs that it should drop.
    Mr Meyers main complaint has to do with unfunded research and “brain drain”.
    How many programs does UAA fund that don’t fall into any of those categories? We no longer have unlimited budgets where we can be all things to all people. There are a lot of programs that are a complete waste of money.
    The University of Alaska system should specifically focus on providing educational programs that get people jobs. In this day and age we should not be propping up pseudo science and politically pandering social degrees.
    That money should go to trade programs that get people jobs. Until we get that massive endowment that funds the University all on its own, we don’t have the money to waste on such drivel.

    In her Feb article Suzanne covered how much is going to the administration. A lot of money is wasted funding 16 separate campuses. How much would we save if we only had around 5 in the most populous areas of the state. We don’t need that in 2019.
    In the new engineering building I believe every classroom has a microphone array, multiple cameras, and its own server to provide remote access to a classroom. And almost none of the classes make use of it. I had one class that did. I have requested that classes be made available online and they just cannot be bothered to do it. It is far more cost and time effective for me to be able to log into class from my computer at home in the valley than spend two hours commuting to attend the class in person. Those are two hours I don’t get to study.

  10. Let’s read a little more closely, folks, before we respond. The author is not arguing that the UA system does not need reform. He is simply arguing that the very specific cut to the research budget will be economically harmful in the long term. Obviously the structure and governance of UA need to change, but I believe the author’s statements make it very clear that there are still some very good things going on at the University. Funding scientific research that directly benefits our state is a worthy use of state funds. We shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

    • Are you sure you want to compare APU, which has a total of 509 total enrollments and costs more than $20,000 in tuition with UAA, which has 15,000 enrollments and cost only $7,688 ?

      • Marc,
        Know how UA can charge only $7,688 tuition and still pay those gigantic salaries? The bulk of “tuition” and everything else the UA buys and pays each other with, has been coming from OPM, Other Peoples’ Money. Via theft of the PFD and myriad other OPM sources (State of Alaska). Alaska isn’t getting it’s moneys’ worth. Time to change. How many PFD equivalents do those high priced ‘academics’ collect, as salary and benefits, each year? Johnsen receives the equivalent of about three full PFD’s per week in pay and benefits. A little (lot) overpaid, don’t you think? That, together with about 50 of his cohorts, and the amount of PFD’s they soak up each week is staggering (another several million $$ per week). No wonder they need all the PFD’s. Time for UA, as a whole, to be on their own or close up shop. Accreditation? Accountability? Justifiable expense? Not in UA’s vocabulary. Where does that enormous cost benefit anyone/anything except Johnsen and cronies? A few businesses maybe. A few restaurants maybe. Higher real estate prices, for sure. More leftist voters, for sure. Regular, non-public employees and Alaskans, not so much.

  11. As much as I want to agree with the author, I suspect that the vast majority of the research at UA is focused on confirming that man is causing global warming through emissions of carbon into the atmosphere. Any research that is not totally centered on this premise is irrelevant and not politically correct.

    • If by irrelevant and not politically correct you mean non-scientific and non-factual, then yes. You are correct that that research is not being done.

  12. If by irrelevant and not politically correct you mean non-scientific and non-factual, then yes. You are correct that that research is not being done.

  13. Whether you like it or not, the U.S. would powerless and non existent were it not for research from academic institutions such as the UA system. The university system not only observes, and produces facts about our world and our state, it also acts as a repository of facts useful to scientists worldwide. These facts and the relationships they build are the sole reason our race has advanced at such a momentous rate. A society, and a race such as human beings is not viable in the long term without an equitable distribution of responsibilities, rewards, liabilities and benefits throughout the system with safeguards, checks and balances throughout so that all may contribute, benefit, and so that we do not devolve into the tyranny of the autocrat and the corporations (fascism: original definition). There is a blight of concrete thinking ideologues that have invaded our political system and is trying to wrest the legitimacy of our Democratic system. This article is just on of many to come that will represent an undeniable and massive surge of Americans that will topple the Right Wing fanaticism that is currently dominating our media, and destroying our democratic and Academic institutions. It’s comin’ baby

  14. I will go out on a limb and suggest that Mark Myers knows a lot more about how the cuts will affect the university system and our state than any of the folks who have commented on his article. For example, many of the commenters fail to understand that if the university systems puts up a little money for research, other institutions are willing to contribute up to ten times more money and those funds are used to pay staff and student researchers. That money finds its way into local economies and helps businesses, in addition to making it possible for many students to
    Stay in school due to their work study jobs. Honestly, higher education really isn’t all bad.

Comments are closed.