After a conference committee on the state’s operating budget, members of the Alaska House and Senate appear to have agreed on cutting $5 million from the University of Alaska’s current state funding levels. If the amount remains unchanged, this will leave the university with $322 million coming from the state in fiscal 2020; a seemingly small scratch compared to the deadly blow Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposed $134 million cut would have dealt.
UA President Jim Johnsen is cautiously hopeful the lesser budget cut will stick.
“The $322 million operating budget passed by the House-Senate Conference Committee this week is a vote of confidence for the university and demonstrates the value that Alaskans and our legislators place on higher education. It also recognizes that we’ve been instituting significant changes and will continue to do so,” he said.
The conference committee also approved language urging the UA Board of Regents to look into consolidating the university from three separately accredited institutions into a single accredited institution and to provide the Legislature with a report on the possibility by the end of the year.
This concept was first broached by the Legislature last month, when John Davies, chair of the board of regents, told the News-Miner the proposal had been mentioned before and the board was discussing the notion.
“It’s certainly one of the options that’s out there. It’s likely that the board is going to look at that,” Davies said.
“A couple board members have raised that question. We haven’t yet embarked on a particular pathway to do that, but it’s not surprising someone would ask us to take a look at that.”
This is not the first time the university has considered the consolidation method.
Former University of Alaska Fairbanks Chancellor Dana Thomas headed a study in 2016 looking into the possible benefits of shifting to a single accreditation system, ultimately deciding it was not in the best interest of the university.
“We did consider that when we began the Strategic Pathways process,” Davies said. “Thomas eventually concluded that we were better off staying where we are. There are significant possible complications with transitioning out of the system we have and there are advantages to having three separate institutions to provide diversity for student offerings.”
The Legislature, which has not officially passed the operating budget, entered its first day of a special session Thursday. Gov. Mike Dunleavy called the session Wednesday.
Nothing is set in stone, and Johnsen said that as the process moved forward he plans to stay in touch with the governor and the Office of Management and Budget.
Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter:@FDNMPolitics.