Now that the 2016 legislative session is over, Kenai Peninsula College Director Gary Turner has had to implement the budget reductions he had planned for both the 2017 and 2018 fiscal years in 2017.
The college’s budget next year will decrease by nearly 17 percent from the 2016 budget as a consequence of broad state cuts to the University of Alaska system. All college programs will remain intact but not unscathed. Students, employees and the public will likely experience longer service wait times, and staff will have heavier work loads as a result of the four eliminated positions, six positions that were not filled when they were left vacant and reduced hours for 32 employees.
“It goes without saying — of course I want for our college to see more funding,” Turner said. “That’s true of any agency in the (state) government right now.”
Only one staff member of the 32 who were informed their hours would be reduced said they wouldn’t be able to continue to work for the college, Turner said. None who stay on will lose their benefits, he said.
Department supervisors notified affected employees in April and June, Turner said. He said he couldn’t comment on the eliminated positions because “they were personnel decisions.”
Turner and the Kenai Peninsula College Executive Committee, which includes him and six other senior staff, conducted a comprehensive review of college operations throughout the past school year to identify where inevitable reductions would best be made.
Supervisors were included in the process, and asked to address how they would prefer to see a 10 percent cut impact their departments in the upcoming two fiscal years, he said.
“We made $1.1 million in personnel and other costs reductions for FY17 and will use $204,767 from our budget reserve to cover the remaining deficit,” he said.
KPC’s budget this year will be more than $16.6 million, Turner said. The state’s allocation is approximately $1.5 million less than the previous year’s, resulting in a more than $1.3 million gap this year, he said.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly made a dent in the shortfall by giving $779,958 to the college, $52,971 more than the previous year, Turner said. It was the entire allowable amount the assembly could have allocated, he said.
Nearly half of the college’s revenue comes from the state, approximately 5 percent from the borough, approximately 37 percent from tuition dollars, and approximately 9 percent from other sources, Turner said.
Even more cuts are expected to trickle down from the state level next year.
Turner’s executive committee will meet again around the start of the school year to determine where to best to make the next round of reductions, he said.
Right now, the UA system is responsible for 85 percent of the higher education in Alaska, according to the University of Alaska Anchorage website. It also has one of the lowest degree completion rates in the nation.
However, Turner said graduation isn’t the only measure of success. UA does offer significant career and technical training and certifications, which are becoming increasingly necessary to qualify for the workforce, he said.
In less than t10 years, 65 percent of Alaska’s jobs will require some post-secondary education experience, according to the UAA website. Currently, only 37 percent of the workforce meets that requirement.
The state needs to make a greater investment in its students, Turner said. If higher education doesn’t receive more attention, there is the risk of losing a large chunk of the state’s future workforce, he said.
“Former (UA) President Mark Hamilton said, ‘the university is the economic engine of Alaska,’ and I agree,” Turner said.
Reach Kelly Sullivan at email@example.com.