It’s official: The University of Alaska will consolidate the state’s university system after budget cuts slashed significant funding. The university’s Board of Regents delayed financial planning for a couple of weeks until the budget cuts went through the state legislature.
It appears that the university believed that Governor Mike Dunleavy’s proposed budget cuts would be overridden by the state legislature, which led to the delay in financial planning. Dunleavy proposed a 41% cut in the university’s budget, which was included in a final proposed budget cutback of $310 million throughout the state. In order to partially offset the slash in spending, Dunleavy proposed a $20 million funding increase for Alaskan community colleges, which are also known as “community campuses.” The state of Alaska faced a $1.6 billion deficit in the state budget, which necessitated the drastic budget cuts.
At the time of the initial proposal, University of Alaska president Jim Johnsen claimed that if the budget cuts went through, they would be the biggest spending reductions in the history of the university system. He added that at least 1,300 faculty and staff members would have to be fired and the university’s research efforts would be in jeopardy. Johnsen also claimed that the University of Alaska had already been operating on a lean budget. He said, “Cuts at this level cannot simply be managed or accommodated,” because they will not only “devastate university programs and services” but hurt Alaska’s economic competitiveness now and long into the future.”
There’s no doubt that the governor’s proposal saves money. When comparing the cost-per-student between community campuses and the state university, community campuses only cost $8,210 per student compared to $25,336 per student in the University of Alaska system.
However, the state legislature did not change Dunleavy’s budget cuts proposal and as a result, the university system voted to consolidate the system from three schools (University of Alaska-Anchorage, University of Alaska-Fairbanks, and University of Alaska-Southeast) into a single University of Alaska school.
Johnsen, referring to the consolidation proposal, endorsed the idea as a cost-saving maneuver, explaining that “the essential functions, especially those that are academic and student-facing…yes they need to stay out there in close proximity to students…but backroom functions, we don’t need three or four different approaches, processes, systems to do lots of things that really don’t add to the student experience.”
Now, the University of Alaska has less than a year to adjust its budget before the July 1, 2020 deadline, as mandated by the budget cuts.