Voices of Alaska: Parnell shows strong support for higher education

  • By James Johnsen
  • Saturday, October 18, 2014 4:19pm
  • Opinion

When choosing our next Governor, I ask myself, what is the candidate’s promise and what is the evidence that he can deliver on an issue of importance to me?

Oil taxes, gas lines, health care, and budgets are clearly important issues worthy of extensive coverage and debate.

For me, a critical issue is how we prepare our people — through higher education — for productive lives as leaders, workers, parents, and citizens of Alaska.

Governor Sean Parnell has promised to strengthen educational opportunity for Alaskans and he has backed that promise with a strong record of support for higher education here in Alaska. These examples —drawn from data provided by the state’s Office of Management and Budget — demonstrate real accomplishment through sustained work with legislators, education leaders, and employers across the state.

Governor Parnell led creation of the Alaska Performance Scholarship program, which has authorized funding of $33 million in merit based scholarships to young Alaskans. This program attracts our best and brightest to stay in Alaska for their higher education and reduces the burden of student loan debt.

Governor Parnell has approved increasing the funds used by the University of Alaska for academic and student support programs across the state by nearly 9 percent, from about $850 million to $925 million. All in, since 2011, the Governor has approved more than $4.5 billion in operating funds for the University. Only one other state provides a higher rate of support per student than Alaska, even after recent budget reductions.

Governor Parnell has approved large investments — over $950 million in both direct and bond funding, and receipt authority — in facilities across the University system: new classroom buildings, dorms, and labs. These facilities improve the educational experience for our students, strengthen research programs that focus on important issues for Alaska, and support workforce development.

UAA received $123 million for a new engineering building and $94 million for a new sports arena. These facilities build UAA’s ability to provide highly trained graduates for the workforce and connect the campus with the community in our state’s largest city.

UAF has received $108 million for a life sciences building, $232 million for a heat and power plant, $77 million for an engineering building, $5 million for unmanned aerial systems, $2.5 million for the Alaska Center for Energy and Power, and $1.3 million for the Cold Climate Housing Research Center. These investments improve UAF’s academic programs and its ability to turn research into economic opportunity.

UA Southeast has received $8 million for a dorm in Juneau and over $600,000 for mining workforce development, improving the on-campus student experience and training programs for people seeking work in the mining industry.

The Kenai campus has received more than $30 million for dorms and its career and technical education center, investments that provide increased opportunity for students on the Peninsula.

Plus the Governor has approved more than $125 million for deferred maintenance of aging buildings at nearly every university, college, extension station, and learning center in the state.

In addition to his support for the University of Alaska, the Governor has focused on career and technical training for real jobs for our people. The Pipeline Training Center in Fairbanks has received $12 million. The Alaska Vocational and Technical Education Center in Seward has received more than $75 million in operating funds and almost $35 million in support for facilities, equipment, and deferred maintenance. Alaska’s regional training centers across the state have received strong support from the Governor, over $38 million in operating grants and $16 million in facilities and equipment. The Governor supported expansion of our Higher Education Tax Credit program, which encourages private sector investment in higher education in Alaska. Legislative support for this important program was nearly unanimous. And he has pushed for reductions in the cost of student loans administered by the state and for outreach programs to encourage higher education for young people.

The Governor has promised to support higher education in Alaska for the opportunities it provides our people to become leaders, workers, parents, and citizens. He has backed his promise with accomplishment, working with legislators, education leaders, and employers to make smart and efficient investments in Alaska’s universities, community colleges and technical schools, and workforce training centers. These investments will enable us to grow and diversify our economy for years to come.

Based on his promise and his record of support for higher education in Alaska, I will vote for Governor Sean Parnell on November 4.

Dr. James Johnsen resides in Fairbanks. A former administrator and instructor at the University of Alaska, he now serves as Chair of the Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education, Vice-Chair of the University of Alaska Foundation Board of Trustees, and member of the Alaska State Committee on Research. The views expressed here are his own.

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