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University of Alaska Fairbanks braces for drop in funding

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Posted: Wednesday, January 23, 2013 12:23 am | Updated: 12:24 am, Wed Jan 23, 2013.

FAIRBANKS — The University of Alaska Fairbanks is expecting a tight budget next year, with uncertain state and federal funding sources complicated by a slight dip in student enrollment.

UAF Chancellor Brian Rogers discussed the tepid funding projections as part of an overview of the university during a Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce luncheon Tuesday. Rogers said the uncertainty will leave UAF with “very little maneuvering room going into next year.”

Rogers said Gov. Sean Parnell’s proposed budget — which doesn’t include requested funding in areas such as utility increases, facility operations and student achievement — indicates it could be an unlikely year to expect a spending boost from the Legislature.

Federal funds also are in doubt. If Congress is unable to reach a budget agreement next month to avoid sequestration, Rogers said that would translate into an 8.5 percent cut in federal funding, he said.

Meanwhile, student and credit hour enrollment at UAF was down by 3 percent last fall. A 2 percent hike in tuition scheduled for 2014 won’t offset lost funding if those numbers don’t reverse, Rogers said.

Those funding challenges come amid some big capital projects UAF is pursuing.

The university wants money to complete a new $109 million engineering building on campus, and UAF is seeking funding for a new coal-fired campus power plant, which is expected to cost as much as $250 million.

The existing plant, built in 1962, is nearing the end of its life and needs to be replaced in the next five years, Rogers said.

“It’s turn-of-the century technology,” Rogers said. “Unfortunately, it’s turn of the last century.”

Still, Rogers said there’s much to be encouraged about at UAF, touting growing research opportunities at UAF as a reason for optimism.

The newly built $200 million research vessel Sikuliaq will focus on Arctic and Bering Sea ocean projects starting in 2014. UAF has 160 unmanned aircraft — the largest academic fleet of drones — allowing new ways of monitoring sea ice or remote wilderness areas.

With changes to the curriculum and a new branding program to build an identity Rogers said the campus is well positioned.

“We’re probably in the best shape we’ve been in a generation,” Rogers said.

Contact staff writer Jeff Richardson at

459-7518.

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