Students protest Hamilton’s proposed tuition increases

By Andrew Sheeler
Sun Star Reporter

Outgoing University of Alaska President Mark Hamilton may be going out with a bang after proposing a much larger tuition increase to the Board of Regents than initially expected. The ASUAF student government has roundly condemned the proposed increase, but university officials say the increases are necessary and not unreasonable.

What is clear is this: in September the Board of Regents will take up the proposal to raise tuition. There are two separate raises being considered. The first hike, which applies to fall 2011 and spring 2012 semesters, increases the tuition of all 100 and 200 level courses by five percent. This is on top of a five percent increase already approved by the regents at their Sept. 2009 meeting. At the same meeting the regents also approved a 10 percent increase for all other course levels. This new proposal would not add to that upper division increase. The net effect is a 10 percent increase across the board in undergraduate tuition.

Then, beginning in fall of 2012, Hamilton has recommended a 10 or 12 percent increase on all undergraduate tuition, both upper and lower division courses

“It’s total crap,” said Todd Vorisek, president of the ASUAF. Vorisek said that in October, President Hamilton had promised the ASUAF that the tuition increase would be fixed at five percent, a rate that Vorisek said was reasonable. “We’re running an institute to educate people. If we want people to focus on their studies, we want them to be able to afford their tuition,” he said. Vorisek said that there is a planned protest this week to call attention to the tuition increase, to match a similar protest that took place on the UAA campus two weeks ago.

UA Director of Public Affairs Kate Ripley has said that it’s important to place this tuition increase in context. Alaska has some of the lowest tuition in the country, placing 44th nationwide for tuition levels. Alaskan average tuition is about $1000 less than the average tuition rate for Western states, according to the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE).

In addition, Ripley said, the university just isn’t bringing in enough money. Money from tuition only pays for a third of the cost of instruction, she said, and the university has added some programs that are popular but also very expensive.

Ripley said the recession has also affected income. Not only are donations down, but the university’s investments and holdings have taken a hit as well. Adding to the fiscal pressure, said Ripley, is a state legislature that has been trying to wean the university off of state money by placing a cap on how much it will chip in. For every dollar the university raises, the legislature will only give $1.25. This is substantially lower than what has been done in the past, according to Ripley.            “The message is clear,” she said, “the legislature wants the university to reduce its dependence on state funding.”

Ripley also said that it was her belief that the university has been very proactive in informing students of a possible pending increase and that the Board of Regents won’t make a decision without getting input from students across the state.

Vorisek conceded that Alaska is still below the rest of the country in terms of tuition prices. But he said his concern is that once raised, these tuition increases won’t go away. “We’re still below our peer institutions when it comes to cost, but we are shooting to the front,” he said.

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