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Restore reasonable funding for the University of Alaska

  • Author: Frank Murkowski
    | Opinion
  • Updated: July 17, 2019
  • Published July 17, 2019

Todd Paris / University of Alaska Fairbanks A crowd gathered in Cornerstone Plaza on the UAF campus for the formal rededication of the UAF cornerstone, originally laid in 1915 by Territorial Judge James Wickersham.

I am shocked and disappointed at the callous manner in which Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration and the Legislature have let down Alaska’s brightest and most promising students. The administration’s $135 million in cuts to the University of Alaska affected students’ scholarships and academic programs, and the Legislature’s failure to re-appropriate funds swept into the Constitutional Budget Reserve (CBR) on June 30 may have drained Alaska’s Higher Education Investment Fund of nearly $350 million.

The administration has failed to explain its reasons for the cuts or its vision for the role of the University in Alaska after the cuts. The legislators who failed to vote for the so-called “reverse sweep” have failed to justify the impact of their vote on Alaska’s Higher Education Investment Fund or the impact of their vote on the students who have lost their scholarships or academic degree programs.

Merit-based performance scholarships were granted to 3,270 Alaska youths, at a cost of $10.8 million annually. Nearly 1 in 5 students seeking degrees had qualified for a scholarship. The other program, needs-based education grants, or financial aid, were granted to 2,030 degree-seeking students. More than 1 in 10 received financial aid, which cost $4 million annually.

Altogether, the two programs support more than 5,000 students annually with financial aid of approximately $15.2 million, or about 30% of university degree-seekers.

Precipitously cutting these scholarships is a significant violation of trust. These students were awarded their scholarships on which they charted their educational plans in good faith, only to have the state government snatch them away.

Similar consideration must be given to the impacts of the Legislature’s and administration’s cuts on non-scholarship University of Alaska students. In many cases, the academic degree programs they have been pursuing will be discontinued and they will be forced to go to school out of state and at higher cost.

When I was governor, we supported a program, the Alaska Scholars program, offering financial aid and or scholarships to the top 10% of the graduates from every high school in the state. Our objective was not only to keep our students in Alaska, but to cause students from one part of Alaska to meet and appreciate students from other parts of the state. For these reasons, we gave the scholarship program a much higher priority than the Permanent Fund dividend.

One can only speculate on the impact the administration’s and Legislature’s actions may have on the university’s students’ future educational dreams, and most disturbing, their faith in state government. I strongly urge the governor and the Legislature to quickly restore these funds for the future leadership of Alaska.

Frank Murkowski formerly served as Alaska’s governor from 2002-2006. Prior to his service as governor, he was a U.S. senator from Alaska.

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