Board of Regents approves $963 million budget for 2014
The proposed fiscal year 2014 operating budget, which allots an annual budget of $963,453,800 within the University of Alaska system, was passed in the Gorsuch Commons on Nov. 7. It is a 4.2 percent increase over last year’s approved budget. “Must pay” facets accounted for 2.9 percent of the additional funding, such as cost increase for teachers, rising electricity costs and rising gas costs. “High demand programs” were allotted 0.8 percent and 0.5 percent was allotted for general budget adjustments.
While the board approved this budget, the final official budget will be released Dec. 15.
Detailed in the proposed fiscal year 2014 operating budget were increase funding for e-learning, advising and Mapworks.
Mapworks is a comprehensive retention and success program for students, which informs them of possibilities to succeed in courses they are struggling in. Within the last year, Mapworks’ student base has risen from 2,000 to over 10,500.
UA’s attending chancellors reported 95 percent of alerts that were issued last year were “closed,” meaning that students who were alerted sought out an avenue of suggested help for courses they were struggling with.
One of these offered avenues of assistance is intensified advising for students on academic probation.
The board also discussed expansions to UAF’s student housing. The proposed fiscal year 2014 capital budget request and 10-year capital improvement plan reads, “The UAF Campus Housing Project includes an estimated 250 new beds in three new suite-style dorm facilities. These facilities will be in the core of campus along Copper Lane.”
Regent Kenneth Fisher spoke in favor of these modifications to student housing.
“The more we can be a traditional campus, the more we can increase our numbers,” Fisher said.
A $4 million grant was also approved to develop a system for studying people of all ages, to collect information on wage differences between college graduates and non-college graduates, and the percentage of Alaska teachers that attended kindergarten through twelfth grade in the state.
During the public testimony portion of the meeting, over 10 people presented speeches to the board favoring the new engineering department expansions for both UAA and UAF.
President and vice president of the University of AlaskaEngineering Honors Society, mechanical engineering senior Najmus Saqib and senior mathematics and petroleum engineering senior Justin Cannon spoke respectively in favor of the new engineering building proposed for UAF.
UAF’s expansion, estimated to cost $58,300,000, will be 116,900 square feet, have five floors and connect to the nearby Bunnell Building.
The proposed fiscal year 2014 capital budget request and 10-Year Capital Improvement Plan explains it best.
“The University of Alaska Fairbanks, responding to the 100 percent increase in student enrollment and graduation of baccalaureate-trained engineers…The proposed new UAF engineering facility responds to the initiative to graduate more engineering students, enhances the student experience for engineering students and other students campus-wide with a visible and interactive learning environment, integrates UAF’s successful engineering research and graduate programs and addresses critical classroom needs,” the document reads.
Also, UAA’s engineering program has nearly doubled within the last five years and now serves nearly 1,000 students.
In response to this increase, the 2014 budget proposed a new UAA engineering building that is estimated to cost $60,600,000.
Regarding the new UAA engineering building, the proposed fiscal year 2014 capital budget request and 10-Year Capital Improvement Plan reads, “New baccalaureate engineering and related associate and certificate programs were created to meet industry demand and have been one of the driving forces for the enrollment increases. The existing engineering building was built in the early 1980s and is currently undersized. The selected site for the new building is directly south of the Bookstore and would connect with the new Health Science Building across Providence Drive.”
Local engineers who spoke at the public testimony said they strongly support UA’s investment with new engineering developments, estimated to cost about $100 million. They feel this will help keep Alaska’s funds in Alaskans’ pockets by bolstering local engineering options for young scholars.
Richard Riech, a local engineer and speaker, also said that the new engineering expansions would allow them to hire more “homegrown” engineers. This is beneficial to the local market because local engineers are already accustomed to the drastic weather and unique culture of Alaska.
Regents said mining is projected to grow 19 percent in the next 10 years.
In response to these projections, UA President Patrick Gamble established a mining committee to ensure that the local workforce will be adequately prepared to work with the mine increases.
According to the board, the highest-paid mining job in southeastern Alaska is underground mining. The average underground miner makes $88,000 a year and wages start at $70,000 a year. Faculty members at UAS have been in contact with local mines that support UAS’s planned training for the next 10 years. Being one of only a dozen mining schools in the nation, UAF has many employers from the rest of the country who are seeking employees through the university.
“I think this has great long-term prospects,” Gamble said.
UAS has been working with local high schools in attempts to help students get internships with mining companies. They recently coached 20 students — many of which received internships. They have plans to guide over 100 students this spring to seek internships with local mines.
Gamble also said that if UA did not have a specific goal to keep tuition down for students, students’ expenses would have risen 5-7 percent this year. He went on to explain that, for the students’ sakes, the board sought funding from elsewhere.
He said grants should be considered revenue because they net money that would have not been received otherwise.
“We’ve got some issues with the methodology,” Gamble said, explaining his discontent with the formulas that total the UA system’s funding.
Regent Kirk Wickersham shared his concern that the radio station at UAF, KUAC, does not offer any approved credits for students that are involved with the program.
Considering he spent years with UA radio, Wickersham said this topic was very personal to him, and he would like to see the program modified to give credits in the near future. While no specific solutions were offered, it was discussed for quite some time. Given his passionate and goal-driven statements, imminent reform seems possible.