UA regents discuss proposed budget for 2019

The University of Alaska Board of Regents discussed the budget plan for upcoming fiscal years, including 2019, during their Oct. 24 meeting.

Five goals were outlined and broken down into line items in order to highlight the university’s plan. Among these were:

  • Contribute to Alaska’s economic development
  • Provide Alaska’s skilled workforce
  • Grow our world-class research
  • Increase degree attainment
  • Operate more cost effectively

Compared to the base budget of $317 million in FY2018, the proposed FY2019 budget plan aims for $341 million, assuming the 5 percent increase in tuition. Joey Sweet, student regent, said that the difference between the new plans and previous years includes a shift in focus.

“Before, we had been determining where we could implement cuts in such a way as to minimize damage to the institution. Now, we are able to look at areas for reinvestment,” Sweet said.

The five goals are also presented in a timeline that spans from 2017 to 2025, showing projected statistics and measures such as percentage of hired educators, research expenditures, enrollment and total cost of education. The university’s vision is to make reinvestments in order to generate better numbers and lower the cost of education.

Photo credit: Mariah DeJesus-Remaklus

The first line item under “Increase degree attainment” says, “Increasing enrollment by 55 percent.” According to the UA 2025 Goals and Measures, projected enrollment for 2018 would be 27,683, followed by 31,000 for 2019, 33,000 for 2020 and so on.

The funds needed to implement these strategic investments sum up to about $14.7 million, while fixed costs for facilities maintenance, utilities and the like, are about $9.8 million. Together, this requires an additional $24.5 million for FY2019 from the FY2018 budget.

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UA President Jim Johnsen says that the university’s campuses were given an opportunity to gather strategies that will meet the proposed goals for upcoming years.

“Based on BOR input, our own analysis, and feedback we received from national higher education policy experts, we modified the goals and developed measures we could track toward those goals,” Johnsen said. “These were then provided to the campuses, which developed strategies for meeting the goals along with the resources needed to support those strategies.”

Garrison Theroux is a USUAA delegate for the College of Engineering and has concerns regarding the communication between the University and its students.

While the issue of tuition increases has been in the air for several weeks, it also highlights a lack of transparency.

“The issue for me wasn’t so much any line item on the budget in particular… I would hope that the University would try to be more transparent with the student body because they have really good descriptions of the budget on the UA Budget Office website,” Theroux said. “There’s just a little bit of a disconnect between that and the student body… I think that would ease a lot of people with the tuition increases.”

He suggested that budget approvals could be emailed out to students or given out in some other way that could help them better understand where money was being spent.

Another one of his concerns lies particularly within the proposed capital budget, which requests $50 million for FY2019 Deferred Maintenance and Renewal & Repurposing. This facility maintenance investment specifically affects the College of Engineering for Theroux.

“I understand the issue that they need to expand degree programs, they need to update facilities so they can keep getting accredited,” Theroux said. “We’ve been losing enrollment here at UAA. I was talking to some faculty and there’s an issue that we have the space to fit more students at this university, but we just can’t seem to get people to stay here, to come here in the first place.”

He describes this dilemma as putting the cart before the horse if the university is building facilities before recruiting and retaining students.

Sweet says that the university’s plans that go as far as 2025 indicate their ability to think long term.

“This is the first time in years that we’ve been able to plan out our finances this far ahead of time. Since we haven’t known what our budget would be until the legislature finalized our funding level, it has made long-term planning all but impossible,” Sweet said.

The next full board meeting for the Board of Regents will be on Nov. 9 in the Gorsuch Commons on UAA campus. They will discuss the budget and tuition in addition to holding a public gathering in Room 106 of the Gorsuch Commons from 5 to 6 p.m.