A recent proposal by University of Alaska President Pat Gamble would increase resident undergraduate tuition by 2 percent for the 2013-2014 school year. The proposed hike would be the smallest increase since the late 1990s and would apply to all students of the 16 campuses within the UA system.
The increase in tuition is meant to offset high operating costs as well as combat the nationwide problem of inflation. The limited hike is unusual when compared to the relatively high rate of increase by the UA system over the past decade.
“I think that this is a significant message from the President Gamble about his commitment to students and the importance of keeping costs down in Alaska,” said Bruce Schultz, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs. “Students should understand that a 2 percent hike still does not cover the increased costs by the university.”
According to Gamble, the proposed hike would result in an approximate $3 increase for lower division credits and a $4 increase for upper division. For an in-state, undergraduate student taking 30 credits per year, this would raise tuition from $5475 to $5580, an increase of $105. Figures for graduate and non-resident tuition have not yet been determined.
Schultz explained that the additional income generated by the increase will bring an estimated $900,000 to UAA. Gamble says that the money will be used to cover a wide variety of academic program expenses and operating costs for the university.
“It’s important for students to understand that at UAA, tuition accounts for about 33% of the cost to provide educational service,” explained Schultz. “Just like everything else, our costs increase over time with inflation. If you look at the consumer price index increase from last year, we are actually on par nationally.”
Recent data released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows a 1.7 percent national increase in the consumer Price Index (CPI) between July 2011 and July 2012. Additionally, the Higher Education Price Index (HEPI) reported a 2.3 percent increase between 2010 and 2011, thus placing the UA tuition increase on even footing with the national average.
The UA system also remains competitive when compared to other public universities within the region. The Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) reports that the University of Alaska is ranked as having the sixth lowest tuition out of the fifteen states that comprise the western region.
“In terms of Alaska’s peers in the Western Region, we have maintained an average resident tuition of 5,500, as compared to the overall average of 7,100,” explained Gamble. “We are comfortably below the average in the entire region. Additionally the average tuition increase has been 13.7% as compared to our 4.3%”
Gamble emphasized his commitment to students, explaining that he understood student’s concerns about rising tuition costs.
“The idea that we can drop a 7 or 8 or double digit increase worked when tuition was a relatively small cost, but that is no longer the case,” said Gamble. “Tuition has finally reached a point of national attention; this is something that some students are protesting in the street about. Students demand service and value for their money.”
The University of Alaska is no stranger to protests against tuition increases; in 2010 students organized multi-campus protests against a 22 percent increase proposed by former UA President Mark Hamilton.
This time however, public perception of the proposal has been generally positive.
“This is the single lowest proposed increase in over a decade, it’s important for people to remember that,” said USUAA Vice President Andrew McConnell. “Tuition increases are going to happen; it’s inevitable. As a student, I would love it if tuition would go down, but that just isn’t going to happen.”
McConnell emphasized USUAA’s role in maintaining reasonable rate for students and expressed his approval of the limited increase.
“This is actually a better outcome than we expected. We were prepared to have to fight against another 7 or 8 percent increase,” said McConnell. “We will be working with President Gamble to ensure that the increase does not go up.”
In regards to possible student concerns over the tuition hike, Gamble expressed his commitment to providing reasonably priced, quality education to the state of Alaska.
“Concerns about cost increases are always relative,” said Gamble. “The idea that we go around talking about how well some areas are doing doesn’t make people feel better. What makes people feel better is showing them that we are committed to maintaining affordable costs with a valuable education.”
The proposed increase will go to the UA Board of Regents for review in September and, if approved, will take effect in the fall of 2013.