UAA econ students, faculty react to economics degree discontinuation at UAF

At the Board of Regents June 2 meeting, the board approved a motion to reduce “the Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Business Administration in Economics” at UAF and to discontinue the programs effective in 2020. After hearing about the discontinuation of their degree at a fellow University of Alaska campus, UAA students expressed their shock.

Photo credit: Jian Bautista

Economics major Lyndea Kelleher said the economy is a hot topic in Alaska, and that economic literacy is important.

“I was shocked, as an econ major I don’t think that econ programs anywhere should be cut,” Kelleher said. “I think that the university is in a tough spot right now budget wise. But it was disappointing to hear because I know people who are in the econ program there, and I am sad for future generations that can’t go to UAF and get the degree that they want.”

The vote to discontinue the degree comes after a decision in 2016 to cease admitting undergraduate students to the UAF economics program, according to reporting by the UAF Sun Star.

Kelleher hopes the Board of Regents will lessen the emphasis on reducing or cutting programs.

“I just hope that the Board of Regents takes into account what is best for the future of the state and the University system,” Kelleher said. “I don’t think cutting programs is the best way to garner interest in the University and to keep up enrollment, so I hope they don’t cut more programs like mine from other campuses.”

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Jim Murphy, professor of economics, said he was surprised by the decision to discontinue the UAF program, and that the implications of this decision are more negative than positive for UAA students.

“For the most part we have a great partnership with those guys, and so it’s not a case of where we compete with them and our competitor is gone and now we need to pick everything up,” Murphy said. “There’s not a lot of positives in fact, in some ways there’s negatives for UAA students because some of our students have gone to UAF for the masters program– because they want to stay in state– and that option is no longer available to UAA students.”

As an economics professor, Murphy said economics is an essential, core program.

“Economics is one of those core majors you would see at any, any serious university so to… offer just a couple of courses and not have a program at a main campus for the UA system… I think it is tragic to tell you the truth,” Murphy said.

Murphy said there are few positives from this decision and he thinks it is unlikely that more students will choose UAA over UAF for economics.

“If I want to try and find anything even remotely positive, it makes it a lot less likely that our program would get eliminated, because if they eliminated our program there would be no economics in the state of Alaska,” Murphy said. “But that’s not something we are losing sleep over, and I certainly wouldn’t want that at the expense of the Fairbanks program.”

Economics student Eva Ulukivaiola also expressed how surprising it was to see an economics program cut, saying “I think that it is sad that new students at UAF who are interested in economics can no longer major in the degree field that they really enjoy.”

Joseph Longuevan, double major in history and economics, also expressed his shock at hearing that a program so essential to his life was being cut at a fellow UA campus.

“I was surprised and distraught to hear that the economics degree program was being terminated,” Longuevan said. “Economics does not appear—in my opinion—to be the most logical degree program to remove during times of economic hardship. With the University of Alaska facing cuts in funding, [I] believe the economics program is even more important than before.”

Lance Howe, chair of the Economics Department said he has been having conversations with faculty at Fairbanks about how UAA can offer more online upper division courses. Howe is also having preliminary discussions about starting a master’s program at UAA.

“It is a loss because I think having a master’s in economics is important for the state of Alaska…We’ve been in talks about potentially our department maybe working with them to offer a master’s at some point so we are sort of in the preliminary discussion phases of that, but it’s not out of the question,” Howe said.

Howe said it is rare to see a university, specifically a Research I University like UAF, without a serious economics program. He said it’s like “removing track and field from the Olympics.”

Howe isn’t worried about the UAA economics program being eliminated because the department brings in significant revenue. On top of that, Howe said the department had 118 declared economics B.B.A or B.A majors last fall. That being said, Howe recognizes the current budget situation requires tough cuts everywhere.

“In a year of budget cuts it’s so uncertain anyway that I don’t think any department on campus would be surprised to hear their program is being looked at,” Howe said.