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University of Alaska system to consider consolidation idea

JUNEAU — University of Alaska officials are discussing future options for the system amid ongoing budget pressures. That includes the possibility of transitioning from three separately accredited universities to one with multiple community campuses.

The Juneau Empire reports Rick Caulfield, chancellor of the University of Alaska Southeast, recently told the Juneau Chamber of Commerce he's skeptical of that idea.

Caulfield says under that approach, instead of three universities with their own programs and autonomy, they would have a “cookie-cutter approach.” It’s an idea that’s been floated in the past, he said, but the Alaska Legislature is asking the Board of Regents to do it once again, the Empire reported.

The Board of Regents will soon form a task force to look into it, Caulfield said, and members of the task force will likely have recommendations for the regents (and for the Legislature) in September or November, the Empire reported.

The Legislature’s request for this task force, Caulfield said, is included in the Legislature’s budget proposal — which has not yet been passed. That proposal, which was put together by a committee of members from both the House and Senate, would cut the university system’s budget by just $5 million instead of more than $130 million (or 41 percent of the state’s funding for the system) as proposed by the governor.

“A lot of people have said over the years, ‘Why do we have three universities? Why don’t we just have a single University of Alaska?’” Caulfield said. “You can think about that and there’s a logic to it in terms of efficiencies and so forth, but at the same time, Alaska is a vast state. The programs and the needs of students in the Anchorage area are quite different than in Fairbanks and are quite different in Southeast Alaska.”

The still-unresolved state budget includes language that seeks to have the Board of Regents consider the concept and report back to the Legislature by Dec. 1.


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