Strategic Pathways and the fiscal future of UAA

The Board of Regents met on April 7 and 8 for a two day budget and planning meeting regarding Strategic Pathways. Discussion of the university’s fiscal year 2017 budget as well as the changes coming to programs, faculty and the services at the University of Alaska were the theme of the meetings. Students, community members and faculty were all present at the meeting.

Students were then able to talk with Johnsen on Tuesday, April 12 about the budget scenarios released in regards to Strategic Pathways. Many students are confused by the structure and goals of Strategic Pathways. Vague and uncertain, information is being released slowly and students are growing concerned.

“I feel like they say a lot of ‘we are keeping all of our students in mind,’ but aren’t really showing it in their actions. No one has truly answered the question of what actually is being cut, and I feel like they don’t have a plan,” Ashely Roylance, a marketing student at UAA, said.

A concern many students have is with the possibility of having their programs lost at their home schools.

“Yeah, I am worried about it. It’s hard for me personally because I want to go into a science degree, physics related, and they aren’t even allowed to offer some of their courses. It’s definitely affecting how and what I am deciding for my degree and future,” Nicole Sola, a biology student at UAA, said.

Programs that each school will concentrate on under the Board of Regent’s Strategic Pathways. Photo credit: Jian Bautista

The original Strategic Pathways framework names both UAA and UAF a lead school in engineering. Johnsen, on April 12, reaffirmed this plan.

“The demand of engineering is huge and can’t be met individually by either school. They’re actually looking at much more collaboration with the two universities and with engineering in particular. So at this point I would say we are going to have two strong, vital engineering programs going forward. The basics will be at both schools, but we don’t have the resources to fund two fully blown engineering schools,” Johnsen said.

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Johnsen emphasized to students the importance of certain programs staying at all universities, specifically with Alaska Native Studies.

“Nine of the top ten companies based in Alaska are Alaska Native owned corporations. They’re going to be here in 20 years, they’re going to be here in 40 years. I happen to know that they want as many of you as possible to know about them because they want to hire the smartest people they possibly can. It behooves all of us, I think, to study the history and the cultures of the first people in Alaska and that is why at every one of our campuses we will continue to have those programs,” Johnsen said.

Many programs are not listed under any university as a lead program. Johnsen clarified that these programs will not disappear, but emphasizes they are smaller and have less of a weight on the University of Alaska as a whole, but will still be offered.

There are currently two budget drafts in the legislature, both of which are being considered. Each scenario requires cuts, investment into key programs, and staff cuts at high administration levels.

“We’re looking at higher level positions; we need to do our best to minimize the impact on front line serving people,” Johnsen said.

The Senate budget scenario provides a budget of $325 million and a tuition hike of 10 percent, significant reduction in Information Technology (IT), advising and developmental education, the elimination of multiple athletic teams, reduction of facilities and maintenance upkeep, and 400 to 500 positions lost across the University of Alaska system according to the Board of Regents budget contingency plan.

The second scenario — the House budget scenario — provides a budget of $300 million, with a tuition hike of 15 percent. The budget would eliminate services such as Information Technology (IT), advising and developmental education. This scenario could result in a reduction of athletic programs at UAA, 600 to 800 positions cut across the University of Alaska system, an increase in fiscal year 2018 tuition and potential loss of one or more campuses according to the Board of Regents budget contingency plan.

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University of Alaska budget scenarios from the Alaska Senate and Alaska House. Photo credit: Kelly Ireland

Both scenarios are currently being revised and will be finalized by early June.

Programs at UAA being considered for investment and continual support include Arctic research, community campus tuition offsets, ISER (Institute of Social and Economic Research), art and lectures, teacher education scholarships, health professions education, course redesign, dual credit programs and K-12 partnerships, fundraising and development, lean process improvement and leadership development.

In the budget contingency planning for UAA specifically, there are reductions to the Consortium Library collection; eliminating 23 positions ($1.3 million dollars) in student affairs; reducing the position hours in University Advancement; a target $3.9 million cut to administrative services; reduction in positions in facilities, human resources and IT services; eliminating IT services on the weekend; reductions to building maintenance, and availability to buildings on nights and weekends and an implementation of a credit card convenience fee that will charge an additional 2.75 percent to any transaction made online. These reductions are just a handful of the cuts outlined for UAA in the budget contingency plan from the Board of Regents.

Some students see Strategic Pathways as a necessary evil to cope with the University’s budget crisis.

“The campus community would benefit from a collective understanding that something needs to be done with the university budget. Strategic Pathways is preferable to legislative actions because the President and Regents understand how to make this university work better with less, more than politicians do. Everybody, students and faculty alike, need to realize that there’s no smooth sailing out of the current predicament. It’s either Strategic Pathways or legislative austerity, as I see it,” Ben Edwards, a mechanical engineering student at UAA, said.

Students are able to take part in the Strategic Pathways process, through USUAA hosted events and Board of Regents conferences. The next event for students to get involved with will be April 26. Johnsen will be speaking with the Coalition of Student Leaders via audio-conference at 1:30 p.m. The conference is open to the public.

“Students are involved. They’re here. They have a powerful voice and the regents take what they say very seriously. We want students involved in this process,” Johnsen said.

The University budget shortfall comes in the wake of the State of Alaska fiscal crisis. The University of Alaska relies heavily upon state funding. The revised budget drafts will be finalized on June 2 and 3 at the Board of Regents meeting and will be put in place at the beginning of fiscal year 17 on July 1. The Strategic Pathways process, which is set up into seven phases, will begin phase one, data collection, in May.