Students react to tuition increase at forum

University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen and UAA Interim Chancellor Sam Gingerich answered questions from students about a proposed 5 percent tuition increase on Oct. 17.

Jim Johnsen and Sam Gingerich
University of Alaska President, Jim Johnsen, and UAA Interim Chancellor, Sam Gingerich hold a forum with students over increasing tuition rates. Photo credit: Jay Guzman

Johnsen said that tuition would increase by 5 percent each year for two years at all UA campuses, with the exception of Kodiak College and Prince William Sound College, which will have tuition increases of 10 percent in academic year 2019 and 9.5 percent in AY2020.

“But in setting the context, you know, the preview was 5 percent tuition increase generally across the board for two years. We have traditionally — and I don’t know exactly for how long — the tuition rates at Kodiak College and Prince William Sound were lower than every other campus in UA’s system,” Johnsen said at the forum. “The regents indicated that they’d like to see those all the same. So those two campuses, under this proposal, would be seeing a bigger increase just to fill that gap, basically that’s been there over the years.”

While the University of Alaska’s tuition is lower than its peer institutions, Johnsen said the community college costs are higher.

“In some of our programs however… we are high,” Johnsen said. “In our community colleges, tuition is about double the national average. That’s because our tuitions are linked and there’s some really positive aspects of… the linkages between our community campuses and our university in terms of transfer, course availability, all sorts of good things like that.”

Johnsen said he is also looking into a 25 percent discount for students in occupational endorsement and certificate programs to encourage enrollment.

Hayden Niekamp, health sciences major, asked if any other alternatives to a tuition increase had been considered.

“It would be nice just to kind of see a multi-faceted approach or just… some other options being considered other than that. That was my concern,” Niekamp said.

Johnsen said the increase will offset budget cuts.

“A 5 percent tuition increase per year will generate — and it depends on enrollment of course — but it will generate between four and five million dollars of revenue university system wide,” Johnsen said. “The last four years we’ve been cut $145 million.”

USUAA Senator, Andres Antuna asked why the tuition was set at 5 instead of 2.5 percent. Johnsen said a smaller increase would not meet the purposes of the current proposal.

“That’s $2.5 million, so that just means you can’t have the goals we have,” Johnsen said. “We can’t make the investments you feel we need to make because you’re going to have that much less money to make those investments.”

Antuna asked if the 5 percent increase would, “cover the rest of the budget shortfall that UAA’s is experiencing? Or will there be more cuts?”

Johnsen said there is always a possibility of an increasing tuition in the future beyond this proposal, but this increase seeks to cover fixed costs.

“If we’re cut further that’s going to be a serious problem,” Johnsen said. “Right now it’s basically about addressing our fixed cost increases. Everything continues to cost more, but actually, our focus is on investment, investment, investment.”

Gingerich said that this proposal can be used strategically to optimize results in student programming.

“Tuition increases, if I may, can be used strategically to make sure that as the budget reduction have played out and continue to play out — that we are doing — using the money that is available to invest in very specific programming that supports student success,” Gingerich said.

Johnsen has been travelling to all three University of Alaska main campuses to collect student feedback before he officially proposes the tuition increase at the next Board of Regents meeting.