Photo by Kelly Sullivan/ Peninsula Clarion University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen speaks at the Kenai Peninsula College Kenai River Campus McLane Commons, only one top on his two-day tour to the Kenai Peninsula Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2015, in Soldotna, Alaska. It is the first time a UA system president has been to the Kenai Peninsula in nearly seven years, said KPC Director Gary Turner.

Photo by Kelly Sullivan/ Peninsula Clarion University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen speaks at the Kenai Peninsula College Kenai River Campus McLane Commons, only one top on his two-day tour to the Kenai Peninsula Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2015, in Soldotna, Alaska. It is the first time a UA system president has been to the Kenai Peninsula in nearly seven years, said KPC Director Gary Turner.

UA president visits peninsula campuses

  • By Kelly Sullivan
  • Tuesday, November 10, 2015 11:14pm
  • News

Recently appointed University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen spoke words of optimism during his first visit to the Kenai Peninsula despite taking over leadership of a system facing financial challenges.

Johnsen touted the importance of investing in higher education during the first day two-day tour that began Tuesday with the peninsula’s first appointed Board of Regents member Lisa Parker.

“You can’t depend solely on the state to fund higher education,” Johnsen said. “…We are looking at everything, everything is on the table.”

Johnsen described the balancing act the UA system is facing in maintaining existing services, improving education for students and dealing with a third year of spending reductions. In dollars, that means the university has to find roughly $57 million in funding to make that all happen next year, he said.

Within his first 65 days on the job, Johnsen helped pass a $960 million FY17 budget that includes a request for the state to increase funding by 7.6 percent from the FY16 budget. He said he stands by the decision to support what he calls a “modest increase.”

“We will be able to make our case,” Johnsen said. “We are critical to our state’s future.”

The university plays a critical role in the viability of Alaska’s economy, as a major producer of the future workforce, Johnsen said.

Kenai Peninsula College freshmen Georgette Morgan said she attended the president’s talk at the campus because she wanted to meet him. She said she hadn’t previously been aware of the state’s fiscal crisis, or the effect it has had and will have on the university.

“It is kind of concerning,” Morgan said. “I like the medical field, I am really interested in it, and I am hoping that they don’t take it out.”

The regents and university administration are preparing to make cuts if the requested money from the state is not made available, Johnsen said. Programs may be consolidated or eliminated depending on location and enrollment, and other “various contingencies” are being put in place, including the importance of establishing stronger community partnerships, he said.

Johnsen said an example of the strategy would be if Kenai Peninsula College Director Gary Turner came to him and requested funding for a new residence hall. It would be unlikely the state would fund the project, but funding could potentially come from private investors, whom the college would pay back with revenue raised by housing fees, he said.

The Kenai Peninsula is unique in that the community has already shouldered some responsibility for providing the services and resources to students attending classes at the local campuses, Johnsen said. The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly chose to fund KPC with nearly $727,000 this year alone, most of which goes directly to the community college’s JumpStart program, he said.

JumpStart is only one of many offerings high school students have in higher eduction through the university, Johnsen said. He drove the point home before an audience of nearly 250 at Kenai Central High School Tuesday.

Johnsen also cited the US News and World Report’s 2015 school rankings. The list’s top schools graduate 91 percent of students within four years, while the University of Alaska Anchorage graduates 28 percent within six years.

Turner said it is the first time a UA president has made it to the peninsula in about seven years. He said it is imperative for the president to make the connections between the services he is in the care of and the people who are utilizing them.

KRC Student Union President Jayce Roberston said Johnsen seems to be genuinely invested in the success of the university’s population.

“I have been encouraged every time I have been around him,” Roberston said. “He seems to be focused and constantly driven and constantly thinking of the students.”


Reach Kelly Sullivan at

More in News

Nate Rochon cleans fish after dipnetting in the Kasilof River, on June 25, 2019, in Kasilof, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)
King closures continue; Kasilof dipnet opens Saturday

The early-run Kenai River king sport fishery remains closed, and fishing for kings of any size is prohibited

An "Al Gross for Congress" sign sits near the driveway to Gross’ home in Anchorage, Alaska, on Tuesday, June 21, 2022, after he announced plans to withdraw from the U.S. House race. Gross has given little explanation in two statements for why he is ending his campaign, and a woman who answered the door at the Gross home asked a reporter to leave the property. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)
Alaska judge rules Sweeney won’t advance to special election

JUNEAU — A state court judge ruled Friday that Alaska elections officials… Continue reading

Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion 
Soldotna City Manager Stephanie Queen listens to a presentation from Alaska Communications during a meeting of the Soldotna City Council on Wednesday, March 9, 2022 in Soldotna, Alaska.
ACS pilots fiber program in certain peninsula neighborhoods

The fiber to the home service will make available the fastest internet home speeds on the peninsula

Nurse Tracy Silta draws a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at the walk-in clinic at the intersection of the Kenai Spur and Sterling Highways in Soldotna, Alaska on Wednesday, June 9, 2021. COVID-19 vaccines for kids younger than 5 years old are now approved by both the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Camille Botello / Peninsula Clarion)
COVID shots for kids under 5 available at public health

Roughly 18 million kids nationwide will now be eligible to get their COVID vaccines.

Megan Mitchell, left, and Nick McCoy protest the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision overturning of Roe v. Wade at the intersection of the Kenai Spur and Sterling highways on Friday, June 24, 2022 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
‘Heartbroken’, ‘Betrayed’: Alaskans react to Roe decision

Supreme Court decision ends nearly 50 years of legally protected access to abortion

Demonstrators gather outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday, June 24, 2022. The Supreme Court has ended constitutional protections for abortion that had been in place nearly 50 years, a decision by its conservative majority to overturn the court’s landmark abortion cases. (AP Photo / Jose Luis Magana)
Alaskans react to Supreme Court overturn of Roe v. Wade

The Supreme Court has ended constitutional protections for abortion.

Tara Sweeney, a Republican seeking the sole U.S. House seat in Alaska, speaks during a forum for candidates, May 12, 2022, in Anchorage, Alaska. (AP Photo/ Mark Thiessen)
Lawsuit says Sweeney should advance in Alaska US House race

The lawsuit says the fifth-place finisher in the special primary, Republican Tara Sweeney, should be put on the August special election ballot

Gubernatorial candidate Bill Walker stands in the Peninsula Clarion office on Friday, May 6, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Alaska AFL-CIO endorses Walker, Murkowski, Peltola

The AFL-CIO is Alaska’s largest labor organization and has historically been one of its most powerful political groups

A portion of a draft letter from Jeffrey Clark is displayed as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol continues to reveal its findings of a year-long investigation, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, June 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Federal agents search Trump-era official’s home, subpoena GOP leaders

Authorities on Wednesday searched the Virginia home of Jeffrey Clark

Most Read