Board of Regents ‘Lockout’ Tuition Increases Decided in Juneau

Kaitlyn Johnson

Sun Star Contributor

In 2000, tuition for a typical freshman taking twelve credits was $1,800. By 2010, that amount increased 96 percent to $3,528.

Students can expect these numbers to keep climbing.  At their next meeting, the University of Alaska Board of Regents will vote on additional increases. UAF students will have limited voice because the meeting will be held in Juneau.

“The average student isn’t able to give their input,” said ASUAF president Nicole Carvajal. “UAA and UAF are much larger campuses with more students and they’re more accessible,” she said.

Before the meeting, board members allot time for public testimony. However, the isolated nature of Juneau limits student access and their ability to testify.

Carvajal said that students have something to say about tuition increases as high as 10 percent in 2011-12 and an additional 10 percent 2012-13.

Student governments throughout the UA system have been appealing the board to allow students outside of Juneau to participate in the meeting through teleconference.

“We were really pushing to have them allow full distance testimony,” said UAA senior Peter Finn, president of the Coalition of Student Leaders.

The regents refused, saying that they do not have a precedent of allowing public testimony by teleconference. As a compromise, the board allotted thirty minutes to the Coalition of Student Leaders for presentations prior to testimony.

“There really is a desire by the board to be responsive to students,” said UA spokesperson Kate Ripley.

Historically, the Board of Regents’ September tuition meeting has been held in Anchorage or Fairbanks. That changed last year.

Regents visit UAS once annually, traditionally in February. This coincided with Alaska’s legislative term and created complications.

One issue is that lobbyists and other groups crowd Juneau in February. Another issue is that regents end up meeting with legislators and spend less time than they would like on UAS, Ripley said.  “Ultimately, it wasn’t seen as an effective use of time.”

The board’s solution was to switch the locations of the February and September meetings. But this means that the annual tuition meeting is held in Juneau, isolating it from all but UAS students.

“It’s harder on our budget,” Carvajal said. “It’s the difference from being able to fly one person down for $700 or drive five people down for $300.”

At the crux of the issue is UA’s need to raise funding.

In April, state legislators decided to revise the way the university receives funding. Instead of approving or denying budget requests submitted by the university, the state will now fund the university by matching its non-general fund revenues by 129 percent. 

“Legislators would like the University to be less reliant on state funds,” Ripley said.

Some money can be found in budget efficiencies and grant money. But grant money carries the risk of being pulled.

Tuition increases are the most reliable way to raise funds. For every 1 percent of a tuition raise, UA receives approximately $1 million. That grows to $2.29 million after the state matches it.

The University has made every effort be fair to students, said Ripley. The cost of Alaska’s state university tuition is the 44th lowest out of all 50 states, and tuition increases have not been as drastic as in other states. Also, regents try to approve increases years in advance so that students have time to prepare for them.

“We want to give students and parents time to plan and find financial aid. We don’t want to sneak up on anyone,” Ripley said.

Although he understands UA’s squeeze for funding, the increase in tuition has not reflected a correlation in the quality of his education, Finn said.

“Since 2005, my costs have gone up significantly, but I haven’t seen a significant improvement in my education,” he said. “So it’s hard for me to justify them, personally.”

Finn, Carvajal and other student leaders are working together to create a presentation for the Board. They plan to show the long-term impact that UA’s trend of increasing tuition could have, as well as incorporate student testimony. Although both Finn and Carvajal expect the regents to approve the increases, they hope to impact the percent.

“In the past, students either supported increases or opposed them entirely,” Finn said. “Our goal is to drop the percentage they’ll go up.”

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