University of Alaska officials stick to Dunleavy plan, vote to cut budget by $25 million

The University of Alaska Board of Regents voted unanimously Friday to cut the university system’s budget request by $25 million for the 2020-21 school year, following a plan previously negotiated by university leaders and Gov. Mike Dunleavy.

The budget cut must still be approved by the Alaska Legislature, and it is not yet clear what programs will be cut and staff fired as a result. The University of Alaska Anchorage stands to lose $9.1 million in direct state support; the University of Alaska Fairbanks will lose $12.3 million; and the University of Alaska Southeast and remote campuses would receive the remainder of the cuts.

“There are very few specifics in the FY21 operating budget,” UA President Jim Johnsen said.

If the budget cut is implemented by the regents, Alaska’s university system will receive about $100 million less state support than it did in the 2013-14 school year. In that year, the Alaska Legislature approved a budget of $378 million, plus federal funding and tuition revenue. Friday’s plan is for $277 million in state support, plus federal funding and tuition revenue.

The decrease is part of a three-year budget-cutting plan encouraged by the governor, who previously proposed a steeper, one-year cut. In response to public outcry, he changed course toward a negotiated three-year deal: a $25 million reduction for the 2019-20 school year, $25 million more the following year, then $20 million cut in the third year.

“The compact agreement actually benefited the university over a three-year period by $260 million,” Johnsen said, comparing the governor’s original proposal with the negotiated three-year deal, which is subject to legislative approval.

Athletics preserved for now


University officials did not eliminate athletics programs at the University of Alaska Anchorage and the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Regents did ask for additional financial information about the universities’ sports teams, including projections of how much revenue donors could provide to the programs.

[College sports are safe for another year at UAA and UAF]

No tuition increase yet

At the start of their Friday meeting, the Board of Regents took extra time to hear public testimony on the university’s fiscal situation. An hour stretched into two and a half, and many students said university officials had not adequately discussed a 5% tuition increase scheduled for a vote later in the day.

When that vote came before regents, they moved unanimously to postpone consideration of the increase until January.

“We have heard strong testimony and we do value students,” regent Karen Perdue said as she suggested the postponement.

The increase is expected to raise an additional $7 million in revenue. If the increase is not approved, the university system would have to cut approximately 70 additional jobs, Johnsen said.

“You may not like the increase, but it’s important for you to understand the increase,” Perdue said.

James Brooks

James Brooks was a Juneau-based reporter for the ADN from 2018 to May 2022.