UA OKs tuition increase, $960M budget

FAIRBANKS — University of Alaska students will see an increase in tuition next year following a decision by the board of regents to approve a 5 percent increase rather than a proposed 9 percent hike.

The regents approved the lower increase rate Wednesday after voting to amend University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen’s initial proposal for a higher raise in tuition, The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

The regents have also voted in favor of Johnsen’s $960 million operating budget for fiscal year 2017. The budget calls for $350 million in state funding, an increase of more than 7 percent from the previous year.

The university system has faced three straight years of cuts in state funding as state lawmakers continue to work on Alaska’s budget shortfalls.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Johnsen told the regents that he recognizes the challenges in relying on unpredictable state funds. University staff is working on contingency plans in anticipation of different levels of funding, he said.

Regent Gloria O’Neill said she did not see the point of creating a budget that the state is not likely to fully fund, calling the contingency budget the “real” budget.

“So you and your staff are still working on the real budget?” O’Neill said. “I’m just wondering where the board comes into the process along the way, because I don’t know if anybody around the table thinks this is a real budget.”

But Regent John Davies thought the $960 million budget was a good starting point.

“What we’re saying is this is the regents’ recommended budget,” Davies said. “I think it’s appropriate that we start at that point. If we don’t do that, we’re effectively negotiating against ourselves.”

When it came time to vote, O’Neill decided to approve the budget along with most other regents. Regent Kenneth Fisher was the only one who stood in opposition of the budget.

A capital request to the state for nearly $35 million was also approved to complete the unfinished engineering building at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

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