What others say: Price of higher education is rising

  • Tuesday, September 30, 2014 9:37pm
  • Opinion

The reasons were varied, but the outcome was clear: no tuition increase in the 2015-16 academic year for University of Alaska students.

Perhaps the majority of regents who voted earlier this month against UA President Pat Gamble’s proposed 4 percent increase flinched because of the public pushback against the raise they gave — and later rescinded — to President Gamble.

We don’t know for certain, but what we do know is this: If the revenue from the proposed tuition increase was so needed, it will either have to be raised elsewhere or more reductions will have to be made.

What other choices could there be?

The tuition increase was to have raised about $4 million in 2015-16. That’s no small sum when laid against the $26 million budget shortfall that the UA system was confronted with this fiscal year, which began July 1. Of that total, a $12 million shortage was assigned to the Fairbanks campus. To deal with it, UAF Chancellor Brian Rogers in late June announced several individual reductions as well as broad funding cutbacks of 3 percent to 6 percent for most components of the campus.

The shortfall, at least at UAF, was attributed to increased fixed costs, reduced funding from the Legislature, no increase in federal research funding and a decline in tuition revenue. The drop in tuition revenue was a result of, according to a memo from Chancellor Rogers to “a combination of low tuition rate increases and declining enrollment.”

System wide, enrollment is down 5.6 percent from spring 2010, according to a UA report from the end of the 2013-2014 academic year. Students are, however, generally taking more courses, helping offset the enrollment decline.

Tuition has become an increasingly volatile subject for students at UA, where rates have about doubled in the past decade. Regents last approved a tuition increase in November, for the current academic year, voting 8-2 to raise rates by $6 per credit for resident undergraduate courses and $12 per credit for resident graduate courses.

That increase followed an increase in the prior academic year. President Gamble, to his credit, has made an effort to keep increases to a minimum. A UA news release in November announcing regents’ approval of the current tuition rates boasted that the university’s tuition rates were some of the lowest among public universities in the 15 Western states.

But President Gamble himself appeared troubled, in that November news release, about turning to tuition as a way to deal with budget troubles. “Tuition should be the last place we go when trying to balance the budget,” he said.

Nevertheless, he would go on to propose another increase, the one subsequently rejected by the regents at their meeting earlier this month.

Now what?

The outlook for increased federal funding seems dire. And the tuition increase has rightly been shelved. Cuts are being made on all campuses.

That leaves Gov. Sean Parnell and the Legislature as the providers of a solution.

The Fairbanks region, home to UAF and the headquarters of the University of Alaska system, has a particular interest in what happens next. Ensuring the university doesn’t wither through financial neglect will require a vigorous, coordinated and united effort from all of the area’s legislators, aided by strong support from the community.

— Fairbanks Daily News-Miner,

Sept. 26

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