BREAKING: Senate proposes record low university budget, slashed scholarships
The Senate finance committee revealed a new plan for the university’s budget today, proposing an overall cut of $22 million from the university’s existing operational budget, dropping the state general fund to $303 million, the lowest budget in 10 years and possibly beyond if adjusted for inflation. The fund makes up roughly a third of the university’s total budget.
In addition to the cuts, the committee also proposed a bill that will phase out the Alaska Performance scholarship, which was designed to incentivize Alaska high school students to stay in the state.
According to their new plan, the committee is proposing an additional $5.7 million in reductions, on top of the original $16.3 million cut proposed earlier this year. Prior to this announcement, the senate was proposing a general fund of $309 million.
The newly proposed general fund, if enacted, would result in a $75 million cut to the university’s budget over four years.
“These legislative cuts and the impact they will have on the university are devastating,” wrote UA President Jim Johnsen in a press release published April 3. “Especially after we’ve shown lawmakers that we have a plan to gradually reduce our reliance on state general funds.”
Troy Norred, a senior in the political science department, says this proposal shows the true colors of the legislature.
“Cuts like this say a lot about the priorities in the Alaskan legislature,” Norred said. “It’s a great way to ensure that our universities aren’t competitive and that students go elsewhere to study and develop their careers.”
Johnsen said the university needs more time to implement Strategic Pathways, the plan to create a more streamlined university.
“We are building the kind of university the state needs to meet a changing workforce and our economic future,” Johnsen said.
If senate bill 103 is enacted into law, the Alaska Performance Scholarship would be officially phased out by 2021. Since the scholarship was enacted in 2012 by the legislature under former Gov. Sean Parnell, 14,674 Alaska high school students have qualified for the scholarship. Of those, 5155 have chosen to attend college in Alaska.
“I firmly believe that education is the best investment a government can make for the future,” said Brandon Blum, a senior political science student. “A highly educated populace creates an environment for more job and an overall higher quality of life. The direction the state of Alaska is taking is directly the opposite of this and it is troubling to see this find support.”
University administrators are not the only ones concerned about this proposal, these budget cuts would directly affect university students and faculty as well.
“[These cuts] would reflect yet another round of significant, devastating cuts nearly impossible to absorb given the now multiple years of budget cuts to the UA,” said Alex Hirsch, a political science professor.
The cuts made over the last three years have resulted in the loss of 927 employees and 50 programs, according to Johnsen.
“There is simply no more room for coping with budget deficits through employee attrition,” Hirsch said. “What the Senate is presently proposing, shockingly even worse than the House plan, is a $303 million UA budget. Such a cut would be by all standards not only imprudent, but also deeply morally reprehensible.”
Some students feel like these changes will cause students to no longer want to attend the university.
“I feel like the university has been in an obvious state of decline which is likely due to its shrinking budget,” said Colin McKenzie, a senior studying fisheries. “If I were a prospective student I feel like many of the cuts would act as a deterrent. I also feel very strongly about the university’s contribution to the community by providing educational opportunities to locals. Cutting programs, faculty and resources for students will likely hurt this relationship.”
“Our state already offers so few in state scholarships for our future college students,” said Alisha Drumm, a senior studying English. “Taking the Alaska Performance Scholarship is a step backwards.”
The Board of Regents has called a special meeting to discuss the new budget proposal on April 13.