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The 2016-17 school year proved to be a very difficult year for the University of Alaska system, with large budget constraints and uncertain direction, the athletic teams faced the most impact. In fall of 2016, UA President Jim Johnsen made a proposal to direct attention towards athletics in order to solve budgetary constraints. In a last ditch effort, that was later overturned by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, Johnsen proposed the cut of UAA skiing and indoor track and field.
Due to strict regulations regarding gender equality and a minimum quota of sports teams to qualify a school to be in the Division II rankings, the NCAA overturned Johnsen’s proposal. However, with hockey and gymnastics qualifying as the only Division I sports at UAA, their safety is still not guaranteed for the 2017-18 year.
With continued budget cuts, athletics is still a target. In June 2017, an additional $8 million was decided to be cut by the state Legislature’s six-member conference committee. The budget proposition was debated and discussed for a significant amount of time, but the final decision was a much softer blow, according to Johnsen, than the original proposition of a $22 million cut.
“While this isn’t the number we hoped for, given the state’s fiscal challenges and the real possibility of a much deeper cut I am relieved the Legislature has taken another step forward,” Johnsen said.
In an email to students and staff in June, UA President Jim Johnsen said an $8 million cut would “severely impact” UA services and would result in the total reduction of $61 million, or 16 percent, over the past four years.
“We’re going to continue advocating for what we need while planning for what we might get,” Johnsen said.
For the 2017 fiscal year, the athletic department was on a $10.36 million budget, while the sports teams alone had a total budget of $4.33 million. Hockey was by far the most expensive sport – with a budget of $1,347,311.
In an uncertain time, it came as a surprise that UAA’s most expensive sport – and generally the least certain for the future – brought in twelve new freshmen for the 2017-18 season.
Of those twelve, nine are coming in as international students, one other as an out-of-state student and two locals. With the staggering and increasing costs of attendance at UAA for non-in-state students, the vast majority of out-of-state athletes are swayed to come to Alaska on either partial or full scholarships.
It was earlier announced by former UAA athletic director Keith Hackett that the majority of student-athletes come in with some financial help from the UA system.
“Out of UAA’s roughly 180 athletes, 152 receive some sort of scholarship aid, partial or full scholarships, with even the option of summer aid for others who aren’t offered other financial aid,” Hackett said.
With the vast amount of student-athletes receiving aa large amount amount of incoming athletes to join UAA, it is being speculated by many about the allocation of money in a time of even more monetary restrictions compared to the 2017 fiscal year.
Noted by the State of Alaska FY-2018 Governor’s Operating Budget, it was announced that the drastic budget decrease will have increased consequences on academic and student affairs in the upcoming year.
In addition to allocate money efficiently to avoid unfavorable consequences, Johnsen and interim chancellor Sam Gingerich, as well as the board of reagents will take charge into Phase 3 of the Strategic Pathways review starting this fall.
For more information on the UA System budget or the strategic pathways, visit www.alaska.edu.