The University of Alaska Board of Regents unanimously approved an operating budget on Thursday for the upcoming academic year that includes reduced tuition for certain career and technical education courses and a previously agreed-upon tuition increase for the rest.
The $890 million operating budget includes $327 million in state unrestricted general funds. That's $10 million more than UA received in the current budget year, but $50 million less than it got five years ago.
UA President Jim Johnsen called the funding increase "a great improvement." However, he told the regents, he couldn't help but think about where UA would be if it hadn't gone through four years of budget cuts.
The university system continues to grapple with declining enrollment. Between fall 2013 and fall 2017, its student headcount shrank by about 15 percent, to 27,823 students.
In an effort to grow enrollment, as well as increase degree completion and fill the state's workforce needs, UA announced earlier this year that it would reduce tuition by 25 percent for 300 career and technical education courses in 50 occupational endorsement programs starting this fall. The programs range from welding to phlebotomy to mine mechanics.
Tuition costs for all other classes at most UA campuses, including those in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau, will increase by 5 percent in the upcoming academic year, and an additional 5 percent the following year. (That does not take into account student fees.)
UA officials have said the university system's tuition is low compared to other universities in the western part of the country, but its tuition for career and technical education courses is high in comparison to community colleges.
The operating budget approved Thursday does not include salary raises for faculty and staff. UA has a study underway to help inform any future decisions about compensation, said Robbie Graham, UA spokeswoman.
The budget splits the $10 million increase in state funding in half — putting $5 million toward UA's utility cost increases and facilities costs. The other $5 million will go toward "strategic investments," including about $1.4 million to increase the number of UA-trained teachers and about $1.5 million for the tuition discounts for career and technical education classes.
Regents also passed a capital budget on Thursday that totaled $45 million, including $5 million in state funding. That money will go toward UA's nearly $1 billion deferred maintenance backlog.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the total of UA's capital budget. It's $45 million, not $50 million.