The University of Alaska may be seeing a 5 percent tuition increase for academic years 2019 and 2020.
During a full board meeting for the Board of Regents on Sept. 14, UA President Jim Johnsen discussed tuition rate increases for UA campuses as well as Kodiak College and Prince William Sound College. Unlike the other campuses, KC and PWSC are the exception, as their tuition is proposed to increase by 10 percent in AY2019 and 9.5 percent in AY2020.
“The specific proposal is five percent for two years at the universities across the system except at Prince William Sound and Kodiak College. They have increases at a higher rate so that they can catch up to all the other lower division rates of tuition,” Oba said.
Alaska has been experiencing economic difficulties and this continues to affect UA’s operating budget.
State funding has gradually declined over the years and the budget was almost reduced by $22 million in June. Instead, the state Legislature cut $8 million, bringing Gov. Bill Walker’s proposed $325 million operating budget to $317 million for the 2018 fiscal year. Oba said that one of the first reactions to these cuts is to raise tuition.
“When the state support is on the decline, often states turn to increasing the tuition as a way to offset that,” Oba said. “And that’s not exactly what has happened here. We’ve kept our tuition increases fairly moderate. What we ask for in an increase for capitol, a five percent increase, won’t make up the entire cut that the entire state has levied on the university.”
USUAA President Alec Burris also said that tuition increases cannot alone account for UA’s budget cuts. Many other changes have been made in order to compensate for the cuts, such as program eliminations and the shifting of both UAA and UAF’s College of Education administration to UAS.
Earlier this year, the Board of Regents had decided to cut UAF’s economics degree program, which Burris said is one of the worst consequences of the budget crisis.
“The biggest one… was that UAF had cut their economics degree which is, in my mind, fundamental to any university that you have an economics degree there,” Burris said.
Joey Sweet is the student regent and serves as a member of the Board of Regents. He said that there are a number of external and internal factors contributing to the economic challenges and the cost of education that Alaska faces.
“On the external front, it’s been a long-standing challenge to ensure that students entering college are ready for it,” Sweet said. “Additionally, we are also seeing the impact that the economy of Alaska is having on enrollment with the recession helping to push prospective students away. On the internal side, we see many of the same trends nationwide impacting our campuses as well, the rising tuition and expensive textbooks being the best two examples.”
Getting those prospective students to attend college and retaining them until graduation has been a concern for Burris. A declining enrollment is a trade-off when the University attempts to decrease costs; the cutting of programs and staff and other reduction methods can discourage interested students.
On Sept. 29, Burris attended a meeting for the Coalition of Student Leaders, which is comprised of representatives from every main and community campus. President Johnsen was present and discussed the tuition increases, and Burris voiced his worry about UA’s efforts to increase retention and graduation rates.
“What we see is that our graduation rate is very low, so we don’t have as many students taking those upper-level courses which cost much more than the lower-level courses,” Burris said. “And if we’re able to retain those students, we’re able to get that investment back, we’re able to make up that deficit.”
Oba said that among the efforts the University has made to accommodate the decline in state funding, the elimination of programs and employees has been one of the most impactful ways to save money.
“But really the way the University has met the big budget cuts from the state is to reduce the number of employees, reduce the number of programs. Just cut back on how much money we spend — our travel budgets, for example,” Oba said. “We’re making up for the lack of resources.”
Students’ feedback and opinions are still important regardless of the fiscal challenges the University is facing, according to Oba. UA does not request for the Board of Regents to vote on matters when school is out of session and students are encouraged to be open with any concerns.
“The tuition setting here at the University of Alaska is very transparent. Students have as much of a say as anyone in the process,” Oba said.
Sweet said that in the Board’s upcoming agenda, the most important items are votes on the tuition as wells as Strategic Pathways, UA’s restructuring of their ways to meet Alaska’s need for higher education. He urges students to keep track of these issues and voice their opinions.
For Burris, he wants to see that the University can still give quality education to students, especially since they will be paying more in tuition and experiencing reductions on campuses.
“It worries me that we’re going to have people choosing not to go to college because they’re going to know that it’s just going to get more expensive, and that’s not the message we want to send to our students,” Burris said. “They don’t want to see that their educational programs are cut. They want to see the beneficial parts of attending one of the University of Alaska colleges, and that’s what we need to be providing to them.”
The Board of Regents will meet again in November for a final vote on the tuition increase proposal.