University of Alaska-Anchorage eyes $50 million problem in proposed budget

 UAA Chancellor Cathy Sandeen (KTUU)
UAA Chancellor Cathy Sandeen (KTUU) (KTUU)
Published: Feb. 13, 2019 at 5:14 PM AKST
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The $134 million cut proposed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy, R-Alaska, to Alaska's university system translates to about a $50 million -- or about 41 percent -- loss in state funding for the institution's Anchorage-area campuses, UAA Chancellor Cathy Sandeen told reporters Wednesday, hours after Dunleavy's budget dropped.

Before Sandeen took the helm at UAA, she served as chancellor at the University of Wisconson Colleges, steering it through a 30 percent cut to state funding, accompanied by a tuition freeze.

"It's brutal," she said, referring to jarring fiscal shifts.

To get by, she said the University of Alaska Anchorage will first look to eliminate leased facilities, then possibly, streamline programs that may be offered elsewhere in the state.

"This is a big hit, especially when we are told, 'Oh it will result in massive cuts and job losses.' That's hard for people to hear," Sandeen said.

The university will work to convince legislators the funding cuts are too onerous, and as the school searches for efficiencies, it will advocate to salvage funding levels.

In a separate reduction, Dunleavy's proposed 2020 budget eliminates funding for Alaska's participation in a University of Washington medical school collaborative known as WWAMI, an acronym created with the first letter of each of the five participating states: Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho.

The WWAMI program has overcome zero funding in the past, something Sandeen said she hoped it would do again.

"We are the healthcare campus for the state. Nurses and other health care employees come through here. So we need to preserve that for the state," she said.

Sandeen also said the university must continue to focus on teaching and access, and the need to keep the school's $6,000-per-year cost for tuition and fees affordable. Drive tuition up too high, she said, and enrollment goes down. Many UAA students are the first in their families to go to college, and many are lower income, she said, emphasizing that continuing to attract educators and students would be essential.

"We need to do this thoughtfully and we need to do it in a way that is compassionate and is humane to our employees," Sandeen said.

Meanwhile, the University is in the uncomfortable position of managing a separate crisis -- the loss of accreditation for its school of education. On Wednesday, Sandeen said she's hopeful the school will appeal and successfully become reaccredited.

"We would maintain that program and see where we can cut in other places. I feel very strongly we are the largest university in the largest city with the largest school district and we produce the most teachers now. To cut that back now, because of a budget cut, would really be harming the municipality (of Anchorage) and the state of Alaska," Sandeen said.

As the university moves forward, Sandeen said it will remain student-focused, look to priorities that bring in revenue, and programs where it has or could develop industry partners. Funded research and contracts bring in about $39 million, and Sandeen expressed optimism that perhaps even more grant dollars and funded research opportunities might be available.

"I have made no decisions yet. I think it is really important that I make sure that I support our employees, our faculty and our students and that we keep calm for the moment while we work through this process," Sandeen said.

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