Neuroscientist pitches ‘New Vision’ for UA budget
The UA system could save an average of $90 million per year while investing in student support and research, according to a plan created by a university neuroscientist. Professor Abel Bult-Ito spent four months writing “A New Vision for the University of Alaska,” which lays out a blueprint for restructuring and reallocating funds and personnel.
The first three years of “A New Vision,” require cutting 198 administrative and managerial positions from the UA system, with some of these employees moved into new student service roles.
The plan would save the university system upwards of $900 million over ten years, which would be used to fund more scholarships, professors, student services and research faculty, according to the proposal.
These positions would be cut to reduce redundancies and inefficiencies, according to Bult-Ito.
“Instead of a middle manager working for their boss or other middle managers they now have to refocus their work on supporting faculty and students,” Bult-Ito said.
“A New Vision” avoids increasing tuition to the extent currently approved by the Board of Regents. The plan offers roadmaps for annual tuition increases of five, three or zero percent respectively.
The Board of Regents budget plan depends on a 4.5 percent increase in enrollment, which Bult-Ito says is unrealistic. He referenced the decrease in enrollment between 2015 and 2016 and the fact that the university is cutting programs.
Between fall 2015 and fall 2016 the total number of credits taken by all UA students decreased by 3.3 percent, according to the University of Alaska Course Enrollment and Credit Hours Report.
UA President Jim Johnsen stated that 4.5 percent is an ambitious number, but only if nothing changed. He said that it could be realistic since increasing enrollment will be a major focus for the universities—in particular, creating better marketing and public awareness campaigns.
“[Enrollment] is absolutely the heart and soul of the university’s financial framework,” Johnsen said. “We have to drive enrollment up, we have to market more, we have to recruit more actively, we have to be much more proactive and aggressive in driving enrollment.”
Johnsen said that he appreciates Bult-Ito’s feedback and agrees with the importance the neuroscientist put in increasing enrollment, but that he doesn’t think “A New Vision” would work for Alaska. Bult-Ito’s model suggests there are more inefficiencies in the state-wide office than there are in reality. He stated that statewide positions have already been reduced by 29 percent.
Bult-Ito’s plan says that other, larger state universities have statewide offices that are as small as a quarter of the size of Alaska’s, citing them as evidence that other systems can run efficiently with less positions.
Johnsen feels less sure about this claim, saying he believes administration sizes stem from the needs of individual states, according to Johnsen.
Johnsen also said hiring more faculty wouldn’t necessarily increase student enrollment. He said UAF has many classrooms with the capacity to take more students already.
Bult-Ito said the new faculty positions would, in theory, go specifically to classes that do have the ability to grow.
“We’re a university and a university has diverse points of view and I think that’s a good thing,” Johnsen said. “I like creative thinking and tension frankly … I think that one key thing that he got absolutely right in his approach is the need for enrollment.”