This year the University of Alaska system petitioned the Alaska Legislature for an increase in state funding of approximately $17 million for the 2004 fiscal year. But the budget approved by the legislature last June only provided a system-wide net increase of about $4.5 million.
Funding from the state accounts for 52 percent of the University of Alaska Anchorage’s unrestricted budget.
“There are a lot of state units that took cuts this last year,” said Soren Orley, the associate vice chancellor of budget and finance. “So even though we didn’t get our full amount, we’re very appreciative of the amount we did get.”
A lack of needed funding meant that both new and existing programs had to be reprioritized according to student and workforce demands.
“UAA has a school of nursing, so that’s obviously an area of strength,” Orley said. “It’s also, right now, an area of great need in the state of Alaska because there is a nursing shortage. So that would be an area of focus for us.”
The chancellor’s cabinet, (the chancellor, provost, vice-provost, vice-chancellors and dean of students) is responsible for the allocation of funding to UAA’s six colleges.
Priorities are determined in accordance with the Board of Regent’s system-wide policy and with the vision of the UAA president and his cabinet, Orley said.
“There were still things we wanted to do…but we had a shortage of about $2.6 million,” Orley said. “So in order to do those things we had to do a reallocation from the existing departments.”
UAA has implemented a new budget model to help meet program needs.
“Each school and college had a proportionate share of the decrease,” said Jan Gehler, dean of the Community and Technical College. “We want to accommodate a changed budget profile, support newly emerging programs and keep it all balanced.”
To compensate for the limited budget the university is requiring each of the colleges to meet new target adjustments for 2004.
“These adjustments can be met by revenue enhancements, increase credit hour production, carrying forward funds from (2003) or expense reductions,” Joan Harings, UAA manager of general accounting and budget wrote in an e-mail statement last week.
The idea is to give the colleges incentive to maximize credit hour production and to minimize expenses by allowing them to retain any tuition revenue generated after target enrollment has been met.
In the past, surplus funds from each college were centralized and reallocated by the cabinet, but the new system allows colleges to keep any funds remaining from the previous year.
The new budget system has also eliminated, with a few exceptions, self-support courses. In the previous system, about 25 percent of UAA’s classes were self-support courses.
A class that can be funded entirely by the tuition revenue it generates is called a self-support course. The revenue generated by the 75 percent of courses that were non self-support was also centralized in the old budgeting system.
“It did not appear that those credit hours were managed by the colleges to maximize tuition revenue,” Orley said. “They were managed academically. And I think they did a fine job of managing them from an academic standpoint.”
The budgetary strain is manifest in the colleges as they struggle to create a balance between maintaining old programs and developing new ones.
“We have constant demands on us for very, very worthwhile purposes, all of which we are not able to meet,” said Theodore Kassier, dean of the college of arts and sciences. “We have developed new programs, by and large, over the last five or six years, only in cases where we’ve been able to do it at no additional cost.”
The College of Arts and Sciences is the largest college at UAA , and it offers the most credit hours, about 50 percent of the university’s total, which generates most of the university’s tuition revenue.
“Within CAS over the last five years we had initially, budget reductions, followed by some very slow incremental budget growth almost exclusively in the adding of some full time faculty positions,” Kassier said.
It is hoped that the new system, by giving colleges more control over surplus funds, will facilitate program growth.
“This is the first year of the new model,” Orley said. “There is going to be a lot of learning going on. We don’t expect to reap the full rewards of this new budget model this year. We think it’s something that is going to occur in the future.”
The CTC has already begun to experience the benefits of the new system.
“We have increased budget authority … the net result is that there is more money to support these programs,” Gehler said.
Despite the funding shortage the colleges try to be aware of each other’s needs.
“There is not enough money to meet all of the legitimate needs that there are in all of the colleges,” Kassier said. “I’d say that most of us are statesman-like enough to recognize that we can’t get everything that we want because the other units in the institution have their needs also.”
Another of the long-term goals of this new system is to gradually lessen the university’s dependency on state funding.
“There’s been a push toward…the diversification of our revenue sources so we’re not as reliant on the State of Alaska,” Orley said.
This means that the university is looking for alternative sources of funding such as grants and increased tuition. Currently, approximately 20 percent of UAA’s total unrestricted budget is funded by tuition, Harings said.
“We’re trying to get tuition more in line with the ratios that exist … in other public sector universities across the nation,” Orley said. “The state (of Alaska) pays for a greater percentage of everybody’s cost of education than some other states.”