It’s that time of the year again: snow, Thanksgiving break, and — if you are a UA student — tuition increases. Over the last two years, the Board of Regents has approved tuition increases for the following year in November. This November is no different; the Board approved a 5 percent increase each year for two years, starting in the fall of 2018.
From the fall of 2005 to the fall of 2019, tuition rates for lower-division courses (100-200) will have increased 104.5 percent.
The most recent tuition increase will raise the price of lower division credits from $202 to $212 next year, followed by another increase to $223 in the fall of 2019. Kodiak College and Prince William Sound College tuition will be increased incrementally to be in line with the cost of tuition at the main UA campuses.
The Board of Regents also approved a 25 percent tuition discount for students pursuing occupational endorsements and certificates. The discount will apply to logistics, pharmacy technology, nondestructive testing technology, wildland fire science, rural utilities business management, welding and fisheries technology.
The rise in tuition over the last four years follows a decline in the UA general fund allocation. In the fall of 2013, UA had a general fund allocation of over $376.7 million. This fall the fund allocation was roughly $317 million.
UA President, Jim Johnsen, held open forums on the tuition increase proposal at UAF, UAA and UAS. According to documents provided by the Board of Regents, 80 students attended one of the three forums and 164 students provided feedback.
Joey Sweet is a student at UAA pursuing a master’s of public administration with a concentration in criminal justice. Sweet is also a voting member of the Board of Regents. In his role as Student Regent, Sweet voted in favor of the tuition increases.
“I certainly wish this wasn’t the situation we find ourselves in, but it is and we have to be realistic about that,” Sweet said.
As a graduate student, Sweet is paying $466 per credit for graduate courses. By fall of 2019, Sweet will be paying $513 for those same classes.
“As a student, I’m not happy about it, like anybody else,” Sweet said. “I’ll still be attending university by the time the tuition increases start to roll around in fall 2019.”
Student governance groups around the UA system counter proposed a 2.5 percent tuition increase instead of the now official 5 percent. USUAA, the Union of Students at UAA, unanimously approved resolution #18-04 which said, “The Union of Students of the University of Alaska Anchorage reluctantly endorses an Academic Years 2019 & 2020 tuition increase not to exceed 2.5 percent of the previous academic year’s rate.”
The Coalition of Student Leaders, a system-wide governance organization of students, concurred with the USUAA resolution said, “In order to stimulate new solutions for revenue while maintaining the UA System during the process, the proposed tuition increase be maintained for AY 2021-2024, at which time the tuition will revert to the current AY 2017 rate with adjustments for inflation.”
Sweet said he considered both resolutions in his decision.
“This is what living under budget cuts looks like when you’re a university,” Sweet said. “We only have a handful of revenue streams at your disposal.”
Revenue Drought: low enrollment and decreasing state support
There are two main revenue streams UAA depends on. The first is state allocations to the University of Alaska and the second is tuition dollars. Over the last four years, state support to the general fund has decreased by 15.8 percent. At the UAA tuition increase forum on Oct. 17, Johnsen explained budget cuts.
“If you actually do the cumulative math there and add up the number of dollars less than we receive, less than what we would’ve received had we stayed at $378 [million] that totals a $145 million dollars,” Johnsen said. “That’s a whole lot of money that we have been cut over a relatively short period of time.”
The second revenue source, tuition dollars, is largely dependent on student enrollment. The 2017 Factbook states UAA headcount has gone from nearly 20,000 students in the fall of 2012 to under 18,000 in the fall of 2016.
The total number of students attending UAA isn’t the only thing that’s decreased from fall 2012 to fall 2016: student credit hours have also dropped. The Factbook shows almost 300,000 credit hours for the 2012-2013 school year. Last school year, students enrolled in 264,140 credits.
Johnsen’s tuition increase proposal states that there is little evidence that tuition increases affect enrollment.
“In the mid-2000’s UA aggressively raised tuition 10 percent for four consecutive years which coincided with some of the largest enrollments at UA. Conversely, years in which UA has chosen to seek tuition increases that approximate inflation enrollment has not increased appreciably.”
Tuition has been raised every year going back to at least 2006. The last time student credit hours had increased was in the school year of 2011-12.
Tuition is distributed to the college or programs the student is taking credits from 80 percent of the time, with 20 percent of tuition going to campus-wide costs.
Past tuition increases and student reactions
The largest modern tuition increase was in 2007, with a 10 percent increase to all levels of credits.
In 2010, UAA students protested a proposed 15 percent tuition increase. In April of 2010, over 30 USUAA-led protesters marched through the university holding signs that said, “Too poor to pay more.”
In the end, the Board of Regents approved a 5 percent increase for lower level tuition ($154 per credit) and a 10 percent increase for upper division courses ($187), graduate ($372) and non-resident surcharges ($388).