As academic programs multiply, BOR votes to approve tuition hike

The Board of Regents recently convened in Juneau with a full agenda, possibly the most prominent of the issues discussed was President Hamilton’s proposal for increases in tuition costs for the fall of 2011.

The motion was approved on Friday, Sept. 26, meaning tuition rates will raise by a net average of seven percent for the 201. Costs for 100 and 200 level courses will jump up five percent and 300 and 400 level courses will rise by 10 percent.
The agenda for the Board of Regents meeting cites insufficient state funds and the responsibility of students to contribute to their education as reasons for the increase. The extra income for the school will fund academic programs and make higher education more accessible to Alaskans.

“Distance learning willbecome more flexible and more accessible,” said Joan Harings, the Budget Director at UAA.

But what programs, mentioned in the motion for the Board, will benefit from the additional funding? UA has created approximately 100 new programs in the past 11 years.

“[The] increase is due to increasing costs and desire to invest in high-demand programs the state, public and Board of Regents have identified as priorities,” said Kate Ripley, the UA Director of Public Affairs.

The amount of Alaska high school graduates who enroll at UA has been growing since the mid-90s when it was 44 percent. Now 63 percent of high school graduates from Alaska attend UA. The state, however, allots only $28 in State grant aid per student. Comparatively, in the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education states, the State aid money per student averages $416.

“There is a longtime, severe shortage in financial aid in the state of Alaska,” Ripley said. “This isn’t a university responsibility; it’s a state responsibility.”
Increases in the Permanent Fund Dividend consistently hinder the State’s ability to provide adequate financial aid to the University.

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“The increase in tuition is high, but compared to other western states, it is competitive,” Harings said.

The average increase in the past 10 years for tuition at institutes in the WICHE region is 103.1 percent. UA has had an increase of only 71.2 percent, second lowest in the region. Wyoming, with an increase of only 55.4 percent, was the lowest, according to the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education.

Concerning increases in the past year, however, UA and Wyoming are tied at the bottom at 1.9 percent.

Washington State University undergraduate students will see a 14 percent tuition increase in each of the next two academic years, according to an article in the Seattle Times.

This means an increase in tuition of nearly 30 percent in the next two years for WSU students.

At UAA, student tuition comprises about 20 percent of the school’s budget. This year, $92 million dollars flowed into the university from student tuition. In 2012 this figure is projected to be $101.4 million. Per full-time student, the average cost of tuition will raise from $4,500 to $5,115.

The rest of the school’s income comes from federal research grants secured by faculty, State general funds and operations at UAA such as housing and the Bookstore.

Federal research grants from institutes such as the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health, secured by faculty, are, on average, double at UA compared to other western states.

Funds from private donations provide for scholarships and programs at UA. A record $31 million in 2008 was donated to UA and went into the non-profit UA Foundation.

The rationale for the increases, stated in the agenda for the Board of Regents meeting, is that the tuition increase “continues the trend of moderating increases to students while generating a portion of the revenues necessary to fund academic programs.”

UA does remain moderate on tuition increases. Most startling is the State’s decision to provide comparatively low funds to the university. Because of this, the Board of Regents, UA faculty and UA students are left searching for money, and where they have found it is in students’ pockets.