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University of Alaska rural campuses bracing for budget cuts

  • Author: Lisa Demer
  • Updated: May 31, 2016
  • Published April 9, 2015

BETHEL -- The University of Alaska Board of Regents is meeting in Bethel for the first time in a decade as the university system braces for deep cuts. The impacts are expected to reach campuses in Bethel, Nome, Kotzebue and other remote parts of the state that connect to communities in ways that extend beyond college classes.

With the Legislature still working on a smaller budget that reflects the crash in oil revenue, nothing is yet set.

Rural campuses aren't being targeted but they also aren't exempt from cuts, said regents and University of Alaska President Pat Gamble, who is working on a last budget before his June 1 retirement. University officials expect the hit to the university system to be about $30 million. This year's budget is almost $925 million, of which $371 million comes from the state's discretionary general fund.

A House budget subcommittee earlier in the legislative session asked university officials how much could be saved if rural campuses only offered classes online.

"We provided financial answers," Gamble said. "But then we talked about the value that would be lost to the state of Alaska in so doing something like that."

The university system had more than 31,500 students as of fall 2014. Nearly 8,000 of them studied exclusively at a small community campus and another 4,000 split their time between a community campus and one of the three main campuses in Anchorage, Juneau and Fairbanks, according to the university system.

The Bethel-based Kuskokwim Campus (a branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks) offers two unique programs, including one that offers a certificate in ethnobotany, the study of native plants, said campus director Mary Pete.

Daisy May Barrera, a Bethel resident and UAF graduate, testified to the regents in Yup'ik that she then translated into English. She said she was thankful for the support provided to the region and reminded regents how sensitive their job is. She is from the tundra village of Nunapitchuk and was sent away to boarding school in Oregon when she was 12. Imagine what that was like, she said.

The Kuskokwim Campus averages about 450 credit students a year and another 1,000 in non-credit programs, Pete said.

"That's everything from tumbling for toddlers to boiler maintenance to Microsoft Office for new employees of YKHC," Pete said, referring to the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp.

In the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, key groups including the college work together to improve life for residents, regents were told Thursday at a luncheon in Bethel.

For instance, the Association of Village Council Presidents reserves spots in the college's human services tracks to develop workers for its social service programs, Pete said.

Yuut Elitnaurviat (the People's Learning Center), a nonprofit vocational facility, works with the college and YKHC to provide certifications for certified nursing assistants, said executive director Kurt Kuhne.

The message that rural campuses are important seems to be resonating in Juneau and there's no movement to close rural campuses, Gamble said.

"That doesn't mean we aren't going to have less money to spend," Gamble said. "We are going to have less money to spend."

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