Tuition Increase: How did it happen?

Students at UAA can expect to pay an extra five percent in tuition starting next fall. They will not be expected to pay the original proposed nine percent, thanks to USUAA. Earlier this month, student representatives from the University Alaska system came to the Nov. 4 Meeting of the UA Board of Regents to discuss issues, with most of the hour of public testimony dedicated to the tuition increase.

Making sure that all types of students are able to participate in UAA was a concern repeatedly mentioned at the meeting by students and regents alike. UAA is made up in no small part by non-traditional students. About two-thirds of UAA students attend full time, and the average age of a UAA student is 30-years-old.

Student government president of UAS Callie Conerton gave testimony about the difficulties faced by UA students paying for college.

“It would take the average student employee 461 hours to earn enough income to pay the current tuition costs at UAS. It would take just over 23 weeks of working the maximum (20) hours per week to earn enough just to cover the cost of tuition,” said Conerton. “Students realize that tuition increases are inevitable, however please consider the students working multiple jobs just to stay in school and get their degree. Please help them to do so without graduating thousands of dollars in debt.”

USUAA President Jonathon Taylor expressed similar concerns relating to a tuition increase.

“We want college to continue to be affordable, for UA students and UAA students, and we are concerned at this level of increase [nine percent] makes that for many, a dream that they can no longer keep,” said Taylor.

The Board of Regents took the given testimony under advisement, and in an 8-2 vote, amended the tuition increase to five percent.

For a student at UAA taking 12 resident credits (six lower-level credits and six upper-level credits) and three credits of e-learning they currently pay $2,499 in tuition. Next year they can expect to pay $2,619 in tuition. This is on top of a $60 increase in the student activity and student health services fees that the student will be paying.

A report compiled by USUAA found that tuition has increased by 26 percent since 2011. In 2011, it cost our hypothetical student $2,084 to take the same credits that now costs $2,619.

Vice President of USUAA Matthieu Ostrander explained concerns with how the Board of Regents is balancing University of Alaska Finances.

“When we are considering how the tuition increases function, we also have to consider what parts they prop up at other campuses. There is more room to cut and there has been a political reluctance to do so. There’s a little more that can be squeezed out without putting that burden onto students. Ultimately what it comes down to is ensuring that the University is an accountable institution, and personally I’m not convinced that a five percent increase is necessary given the nature of what we can do,” said Ostrander.

While UAA has set its tuition well under the national average for a four year state institution, Ostrander points out that the university is at the expensive end of two year associates degrees.

“When you look at us at the four year level, looking at four year degree granting institutions, we’re rather cheap, but when you look at the other end, the two year degree granting institutions, we’re actually relatively expensive,” said Ostrander. “This is because UAA and to a lesser extent, some of the community campuses, used to be community colleges. We’ve seen a transition away where nobody wants to be a community college, even though for our community campuses, that is what they are.”

The tuition increase will raise approximately five million in additional revenue, and while this will put a dent in the budget gap, additional measures will still have to be taken by the university. While this won’t be the last time tuition is raised, students can rest easier knowing they will have their voices heard in the process.

Written by Nathan Burns