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University of Alaska is planning big tuition increases and hundreds of staff cuts

  • Author: Tegan Hanlon
  • Updated: May 31, 2016
  • Published April 7, 2016

University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen presented two revised draft budget proposals Thursday, both cutting hundreds of staff jobs across campuses and adding new tuition increases in an effort to close a projected budget gap for next fiscal year, which starts July 1.

But without an agreed-upon budget from the Legislature, the proposals remain preliminary, Johnsen told the UA Board of Regents at their meeting in Anchorage. One budget scenario, based on the Senate budget, accounts for a $52 million budget shortfall. The other, based on a budget from the House, anticipates having to trim $77 million.

If the smaller Senate-version gap sticks, the university system would lose 200 to 300 full-time employees. If it is the larger cut, that range increases from between 400 and 500, according to Johnsen's presentation. On top of that, Johnsen said, between 25 and 34 full-time senior-leadership jobs would be eliminated out of a total 167.

"We've got to take a significant piece of our higher-level administration out," Johnsen told the regents.

The budget scenarios also included midyear tuition boosts of either 10 percent or 15 percent, depending on the gravity of the budget shortfall. This increase would come in addition to the 5 percent tuition hike already approved by regents in November for fall 2016.

The midyear tuition increases would also come on top of a separate proposal already under consideration to raise tuition by 10 percent next year for students at the College of Business and Public Policy at the University of Alaska Anchorage. The plan, which needs Johnsen's approval, would add another 10 percent increase the following year, said Samuel Gingerich, UAA provost and executive vice chancellor.

That boost would match a "tuition surcharge" in place at the University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Management. There are also increases proposed for the engineering schools at UAA and UAF, Gingerich said.

Matthieu Ostrander, a senior economics and political science major at UAA, said Thursday had he been a lower-classman, he would be looking at a series of three tuition increases next year: by 5 percent, 10 percent and then another 10 or 15 percent.

"That's absolutely mind-boggling," said Ostrander, vice president of the UAA Union of Students. "I don't fault President Johnsen for having to do what's necessary given what the Legislature is giving us. I fault the Legislature for effectively gutting public higher education."

In November, the regents passed an operating budget for the 2016-17 academic year that totaled $960 million and included nearly $378 million from the state. Johnsen's contingency budget plans, based on the House and Senate changes, anticipate receiving either $300 million from the state or $325 million.

"We know that there are significant budget reductions ahead," said UAA Chancellor Tom Case. "But the range is pretty broad."

Johnsen said the university system has nearly 60 certificate and degree programs on track for elimination and 24 additional programs being considered for elimination.

Meanwhile, Johnsen is also moving forward with his plan to restructure the university system, made up of three main hubs in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau as well as more than two dozen community campuses. However, decreased funding could put the plan on a faster track.

Johnsen's presentation document said: "Lower funding levels will force UA to move much more quickly than it should, which — given UA's large size, wide geographic distribution, long notice requirements, and complexity of the three university system organization — will force decisions that are less strategic and more focused on areas where savings can be achieved quickly."

Here's how the budget cuts could play out between campuses, according to Johnsen's presentation:

• UAA may have to cut $19 million to $28 million. Its budget contingency plan presented Thursday included the elimination of 151 positions in the academic college and community campuses, plus 23 positions eliminated in Student Affairs, among other cuts.

• UAF could see a cut from $26 million to $38 million. Earlier this month, UAF Chancellor Mike Powers said even the best-case scenario meant at least 300 people and positions would be affected.

• The University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau could see a cut from $4 million to $6 million, according to Johnsen's presentation. Its contingency plan included the elimination of four full-time jobs in administrative services, two jobs in student services and nearly eight jobs across academic schools.

In the worst-case budget scenario, cuts could also include the elimination of some athletic programs at UAA and UAF and the "potential elimination of one or more campuses," according to the presentation.

UAA athletic director Keith Hackett said Thursday night his department will absorb its share of reductions, but said cuts won't be determined until the legislature finalizes the university budget.

If teams must be cut, the hockey team, both basketball teams and the volleyball team should be spared due to NCAA Division II membership requirements. Division II schools must offer a minimum of 10 sports, including at least two team sports for each gender, Hackett said.

With seven sports for women and six for men, UAA is three over the NCAA minimum. But it is right at the minimum for team sports -- men's hockey, men's basketball, women's basketball and women's volleyball. All of the school's other sports -- men's and women's skiing, men's and women's indoor track and field, men's and women's outdoor track and field, men's and women's cross-country and women's gymnastics -- are considered individual sports.

The regents will continue their meeting Friday, starting with public testimony at 8:30 a.m. The board is expected to approve a revised budget during its next two-day meeting that starts June 2, Johnsen said.

Sports editor Beth Bragg contributed to this story.

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