Students seek economic insight from Juneau trip

2-21-17 Student Coalition1

Board members of the UA Coalition of Student Leaders vote on a resolution during their official meeting held in Juneau on Sunday, Feb. 12. Photo courtesy of ASUAF President Colby Freel.

Student leaders from all three UA campuses met in Juneau last week to discuss the precarious financial future of the university and learn more about the state’s economy from legislators and experts.

One of the coalition’s key responsibilities is to advocate for and be the voice of the UA student body,” Colby Freel, ASUAF president and coalition chair, said. “All 30 thousand plus of them.”

The student leadership coalition discussed specific concerns regarding the university’s future and budget issues and developed talking points for their meetings with state legislators. These subjects included protecting the Alaska Performance Scholarship, maintaining a steady university budget without any more cuts and looking into forms a revenue separated from the state such as the Alaska Higher Education tax credit program and the university’s land grant.

“These were chosen based on common concerns among the different campus student governments,” Freel said. “These issues affect students broadly and have profound impacts on student’s lives.”

Over the course of the two day conference, coalition members attended guest lectures from UAS Chancellor Rick Caulfield, Director of Management and Budgets Pat Pitney, Representative Andrew Josephson and many others.

On the first day of the conference, Pitney gave a presentation bringing the coalition up to speed on the state’s current budget crisis, discussing future options for revenue and potential tax restructuring.

Alaska has already cut 44 percent of the annual general funds budget since its peak in 2013 and is down $1.7 billion just during Governor Bill Walker’s administration since Dec. 2014, according to Pitney.

“We need continued cost containment, looking for ways to reduce are really important, but that only gets you a little ways,” Pitney said. “We have a $3 billion deficit with no prospect of change under our current tax structure. We have to address revenue. Oil is never going to bring us out of the hole moving forward.”

Alaska Governor Bill Walker confirmed the university’s budget for fiscal year 2018 at $325 million, $16 million lower than what the Board of Regents requested.

“We are in a budget crisis but it is much more than that, we are also in a program, faculty and services crisis,” Reid said. “Any additional cuts to our budget, before the UA system can find revenue streams, puts all programs and staff at risk which greatly affects students on all levels.”

Cordero Reid, ASUAF senator and two-year coalition member, values the coalition’s ability bring about unity within the separate campuses.

“It allows representative members from each [major Alaska university] and satellite campuses to voice their issues in an arena where they can be heard as a unified voice that matters to the legislature and more importantly the Board of Regents,” Reid said. “It breeds interactivity between campuses and allows for free form of ideas.”

Allyssia Garcia, ASUAF senator and first year coalition attendee, shares the same views.

“I think it’s really valuable to have leaders from all the different campuses get together,” Garcia said. “Not only are they leaders on their own campuses, but they gain perspectives and then we’re all united to discuss common themes among the campuses. It provides a really great opportunity to make sure student voices are heard.”

ASUAF senator Georgia Durden, attending the conference for the first time, found the meetings informative.

“I think it’s good that we’re understanding the issues the university is facing from the upper division, state level,” Durden said. “I mean Jim Johnsen can come up with whatever he wants and the board of regents can come up with whatever they want, but that plan’s not going to matter unless we get people on board with it.”

Each ASUAF member had their own personal priorities.

“We’re trying to make the legislators understand that the UA has been cut enough,” Durden said. “I think the budget is the most important right now as well as the Alaska Performance Scholarship because it keeps students from Alaska going to Alaskan schools.”

Garcia, a graduating senior, is planning to attend law school out of state before returning to Alaska.

“I was leaning more towards seeing the land grant be pushed so that the university has assets so that they can be more self sustaining,” Garcia said. “The tax credit I see as more of a short term revenue option and I think we should focus more on the long term so when I return to Alaska I can still see the university providing a quality education.”

Following the conference, students spent two days meeting with state legislators to advocate for the university.

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