To the Alaska State Legislature,
I encourage you to pass the UA Board of Regents Fiscal Year 2019 proposed budget of $341 million. The UA Board of Regents have labored long crafting this budget which has a special emphasis on investments in Alaska’s economic future. The University of Alaska has endured over $61 million in state budget cuts over the past four years. The results have been catastrophic to post-secondary education in Alaska. No one in the legislature is at fault; however, now is the opportunity to set things right.
The three UA universities are high-quality schools that benefit the state. Every step in the ladder of science, mathematics and art are taught at our university with the utmost efficiency. At UA, there are 30,000 students studying in over 400 degree programs and certificates. To narrow my argument, I believe it is prudent to examine UA’s strategic investments. The strategic investments were crafted by the UA Board of Regents alongside President Jim Johnsen. These investments include providing Alaska with a skilled workforce and contributing to Alaska’s economic development.
According to Johnsen in his 2018 State of the University address, over 4,600 students graduated from UA in 2017 in one form or another. That is 4,600 people who have gone on to be nurses, doctors, lawyers, engineers, entrepreneurs and politicians, among many other careers. Alaska has great difficulty providing its own skilled workforce. According to the Peninsula Clarion, the State of Alaska hired a full 70 percent of our K-12 teachers from outside of the state in 2016. That is a weakness for the state because it makes us to dependent upon an outside supply. The College of Education at UAA is working to address this problem, but this requires time and a proper budget from the state.
If a person could receive a 400 percent return on an investment, it would be unwise not to invest. According to Johnsen in his State of the University address, the State of Alaska receives $4 for every $1 invested within it. To put that in context, when a person opens up a savings account at a bank, standard interest paid to the account holder is a dividend of 0.5 percent. Money invested in the UA system has a return rate 800 times that of the standard Alaska USA savings account.
Recent times have been hard on the University of Alaska and recent budget cuts have made it much harder. According to Johnsen, the UA system has 1,183 fewer faculty and staff on the payroll than we had just three years ago. Professors are the lifeblood of this and every other university. They sacrifice much and share their knowledge for the sake of society. Staff at UA are unsung heroes that deserve our full consideration. Every time a guidance counselor, IT official, custodian or maintenance worker is laid off because of budget cuts, the university suffers for it.
The parade of budget cuts imposed on the university year after year has resulted in academic programs either being reduced or completely eliminated altogether. I myself am a student of politics at UAA and will be beginning law school in August thanks to the education I have received. Many of the necessary classes I need to graduate have not been provided recently because of budget cuts and the resulting faculty layoffs. Thankfully, I have been able to get by through substitutions and class exemptions but many students have not been as lucky as I am. In addition to these problems, the university is also facing a crisis of deferred maintenance. Our buildings are aging and in need of repairs.
As I understand it, the statewide UA system is currently in a $1 billion deferred maintenance slump. Obviously, this amount is far beyond what could reasonably be expected from the legislature to provide but the problem is worth addressing and acknowledging. Deferred maintenance is a factor in the declining enrollment the university is facing. After all, who wants to go to an aging school? The UA Board of Regents proposed budget contains adequate funding to at least stop the problem from getting worse.