A student walks across the University of Alaska Southeast campus on Friday, Feb. 29, 2020. (Peter Segall | Juneau Empire)

A student walks across the University of Alaska Southeast campus on Friday, Feb. 29, 2020. (Peter Segall | Juneau Empire)

Tough road ahead for University, Johnsen says, but future is bright

University is refining its programs to be more cost effective

Despite experiencing significant cutbacks, the University of Alaska still has a lot to offer the state, said University President Jim Johnsen.

“We do not have a mascot for the UA system, but if we did, it should be that enduring symbol from our mythological past, the phoenix, the bird of fire, rising anew, strong, bright and resilient from the ashes of a most challenging 2019,” Johnsen told the audience AlaskaCAN! conference in Anchorage Friday.

The university is still working its way through a 21% reduction over three years, per last year’s step-down agreement with Gov. Mike Dunleavy. While those cuts are substantial, Johnsen said, the university was looking at ways of refining the services it offers and ways to increase its revenues.

To that end, the university has enacted a 5% tuition crease beginning for the 2020 fall semester, and it has put more effort into increasing enrollment.

Even with the tuition increase, UA remains one of the most affordable universities in the nation, Johnsen said. When the UA Board of Regents voted for the tuition increase, they also voted to use $1.5 million in tuition revenue for financial aid for students. University officials are still working out how much each university will get, Johnsen said.

UA is looking to bolster its most in-demand programs, Johnsen said, and each branch was currently reviewing the programs it offers for cost savings.

“The programs will be reviewed and prioritized according to criteria established by the board. Quality, cost, demand, availability of alternatives and alignment with the board’s five strategic goals,” Johnsen said. “Which are, economic development, research, workforce development, educational attainment and equity and cost effectiveness.”

Universities will provide their reports to the Board of Regents on March 23 and recommendations will be put forward in early June, according to Johnsen.

Despite the significant reductions to the university system, there were bright spots on the horizon. The university has sought-after research projects, particularly in the Arctic and is working with the federal government to increase funding for those projects.

Johnsen also said since 2015 the university had received $105 million in private contributions, roughly half of which were from first-time donors. He said Alaska’s congressional delegation is also working with the federal government to receive the remainder of the lands promised to the university system in its founding.

So far the university has only gotten 20% of the lands due from the federal government, but that land has been sold or developed and the money put back into the system, Johnsen said.

“Yes, we will need to make tough decisions, programs will be reduced and discontinued,” Johnsen said. “But as we take our destiny in our own hands, as those decisions are made, the interests of our students come first.”

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at 523-2228 or psegall@juneauempire.com.

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