$24 million gap between Governor's, Regents' versions of University budget

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - The University of Alaska is calling for the state to construct a more sustainable fiscal plan and invest in higher education. On Monday, University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen briefed reporters in person and over the phone from Juneau just across the street from the Capitol Building.

"We're really facing some serious challenges," Johnsen said in the briefing.

The UA operating budget has been cut from an annual $378 million to $317 million over the last four years. Johnsen stressed how the reductions have negatively impacted the UA system.

"Without investment there can't be growth and in fact when budgets are cut, when disinvestment occurs, our services and programs inevitably get reduced," Johnsen said.

In the last four years, the UA system has cut back on about 50 degree programs; 1,200 staff members have been let go, which President Johnsen believes has helped contribute to the 15 percent drop in enrollment.

Johnsen and the UA Board of Regents have pitched a $341 million budget proposal (10 percent below the 2014 budget) to Gov. Bill Walker for the Fiscal Year of 2019. However, Walker has suggested a budget proposal of $317 million for the UA system.

Johnsen says most of the $24 million difference between the two is centered on an increase in operating costs for facilities and strategic priorities, which would include new programs, workforce development, economic diversification, education attainment, marketing, and recruiting.

"Our biggest challenge in Alaska, our biggest competitor is, 'I'm not going to college at all.' It's young people leaving the state for college if we want all those young people to come to the UA system," Johnsen said.

While the UA system, according to Johnsen is No. 1 in the country for affordability in tuition based on household income, the UA lags behind the nation in education attainment. Johnson says that making sure Alaska students attend, stay, and earn from a higher education University will not only help out the UA system, but will also help the state's economy, health, and environment as a whole.

One of the biggest cash cows for the UA system, Johnsen says, is research, which pulls in $4 for every $1 invested. But there are other ways, and even laws to help supplement budget problems for the UA system.

There's an education tax credit that's set to expire this coming year, which allows companies to make investments that can contribute to higher education, such as workforce development or research. There's a new set of bills in both the house and senate that would renew the credit, if approved.

"It contributes around $5-$7 million to the UA system from year to year," Johnsen said.

The UA will also be attempting to roll out more online programs that would allow Alaskans to access their education and earn their degree over the internet.

Overall, Johnsen said he and the board are focused on five key points as they make their continued pitch to Gov. Walker to approve their budget for FY 19:

  1. Economic Development and Communication

  2. Workforce training - more educators and healthcare workers

  3. Research

  4. Education attainment

  5. Cost Effectiveness

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