UAF says it could be a top-tier research institution. It’s asking for $20M to get there.

For $20 million, the University of Alaska Fairbanks could be a top-tier research school, administrators told the Senate State Affairs Committee on Tuesday. That is how much it would cost to increase the number of doctoral students in the university’s programs. And that increase would tip UAF over a national threshold for performance, the administrators said.

They pointed to a national framework for categorizing research universities in the United States, the Carnegie Classification. A university in the highest classification, R1, is in the top 4% of the nation’s research institutions. That’s where UAF Provost Anupma Prakash wants her students to be, she said in an interview.

“It’s an ambitious target, but it’s a very doable target. And we are already working towards it,” Prakash said. “With this one-time influx, you can have a world-class university right here.”

The R1 universities commit the most money to research and graduate the most Ph.D. students through their programs. UAF handily meets the metric for research dollars — in fact, it spends four times the necessary amount — but it would need to double its Ph.D. graduates to make the cut.

Alaska is one of only five states that does not have a top-tier university. But that can change now, Prakash said. The university has been working since 2018 toward the classification, which Prakash said would bring more federal grant dollars and open the door to private investments.

“We’re so close,” she said. “With this one time-influx of money — we’re already here,” she indicated a high level with her hands, “we’ve just got to bump up to the next level. And then we’re going to be the economic driver.”

Prakash said once the state invests $20 million into the university, it will be able to graduate about 35 more Ph.D. students and achieve R1 status.


”Research is a very big economic driver for the state,” she said. “When you invest in research, there is a direct economic benefit to the state and much of our research addresses key issues that the state has.”

The Carnegie Classification works on a three-year cycle. If UAF can maintain an average of 70 doctorates a year through 2026, it will qualify and be granted top-tier status in 2028. If it doesn’t, it will have to wait for the next three-year cycle and the soonest it could achieve its goal would be 2031.

In the committee this week, Prakash told senators the bulk of the money, $13 million, would go directly to graduate student support in the form of fellowships for R1 research. Nearly $5 million would go to faculty mentor incentives to encourage professors to work summers and take on more students. Another $2 million would go to technology needs.

Sens. Scott Kawasaki, D-Fairbanks, and Matt Claman, D-Anchorage, voiced their support for the effort.

Sen. Kelly Merrick, R-Eagle River, said the Senate University of Alaska Finance Subcommittee has identified a $35 million need for deferred maintenance at the state universities as its first priority this year. “This is their second-highest priority behind deferred maintenance,” she said.

In a later interview, Prakash said she doesn’t want to see Alaska’s opportunity squandered.

“Forty-five other states have an R1 institute. We cannot be missing the boat on this one,” she said.

Originally published by the Alaska Beacon, an independent, nonpartisan news organization that covers Alaska state government.