Alaska Legislature

Budget veto could put University of Alaska at risk of losing accreditation, agency warns

The agency that accredits universities in Alaska is warning legislators that a 41 percent cut in state funding for the University of Alaska could lead to the loss of accreditation.

Sonny Ramaswamy, president of the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, issued the warning in a letter Sunday to state senators and representatives, and urged them to reconsider the funding cut. The cut, he wrote, poses a significant risk to the quality of education provided to UA students.

“Failure to properly fund these institutions could have disastrous effects, including the potential loss of accreditation, that could be felt for generations,” Ramaswamy wrote in the letter.

Ramaswamy said in an email Tuesday that he had read about the budget cuts to UA, and had concerns about Alaska students getting hurt by the loss of accreditation if he didn’t speak up. It’s the first time the agency, which accredits universities throughout the Pacific Northwest, has weighed in on state funding for a public university, he said.

“The severity of the proposed budget reduction is unprecedented. …” Ramaswamy said.

Ramaswamy’s voice joins a chorus of people and organizations statewide calling on the state Legislature to reverse an array of Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s 182 vetoes that total $444 million.

The public university system faces a $135 million cut to its state funding this year — $130 million from the governor’s veto and a $5 million cut previously approved by the state Legislature. That’s a 41% reduction in state funding from last year, and it’s a 17% cut to UA’s overall budget.


[UA president: Dunleavy veto unprecedented, ‘devastating’]

The Legislature has until the end of the day Friday to override any of Dunleavy’s vetoes. To do so requires 45 of the 60 lawmakers to agree, though by Tuesday that appeared unlikely.

Dunleavy’s spokesman did not return request for comment Tuesday about whether the governor had concerns about the universities losing accreditation. Dunleavy earned his master’s in education from the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

The UA system includes three separately-accredited universities: UAF, the University of Alaska Anchorage and the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau. The community campuses each fall under the accreditation of one of the universities.

Earlier this year, the UA Board of Regents voted to discontinue initial teacher preparation programs at UAA after the programs lost accreditation.

The loss of accreditation by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities would be bigger, and impact the entire university.

It’s rare for a university to be stripped of its accreditation, said Lynn Pasquerella, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

“Financial viability is a major focus for accrediting bodies to ensure that the students admitted will be educated through graduation or that there is a teach out plan, where other institutions agree to take current students,” Pasquerella said.

The loss of accreditation has serious ramifications, she said. Many employers and graduate schools require proof of graduation from an accredited institution, she said. The U.S. Department of Education also requires accreditation for a school to be eligible for federal student aid.

Losing accreditation “would be catastrophic” for students’ ability to receive federal loans or transfer their courses and degrees, as well as for faculty who want to receive grant funding or publish their research, said a statement Tuesday from Paul Layer, UA vice president for academics, students and research.

UA is focused on managing the risk of to its accreditations, and is in regular communication with Ramaswamy, Layer said.

The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities and the American Council on Education have also written letters to state lawmakers calling on them to override the governor’s veto.

Tegan Hanlon

Tegan Hanlon was a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News between 2013 and 2019. She now reports for Alaska Public Media.