Budget update: Dec. 18

December 18, 2019

Tori Tragis

— by Dan White, chancellor

As we head into the holiday closure, I want to share with you some thoughts for the coming fiscal year. On December 11, 2019, Governor Dunleavy released his fiscal year 2021 capital and operating budget proposal. Given the 3-year budget compact signed last year between the Governor and the UA Board of Regents, there were not any surprises in this announcement. 

The Governor’s budget reflects the compact reductions to UA in the coming fiscal year of $25M. In addition to that, the system office has asked that the three Universities reallocate to a set of strategic initiatives outlined in the President’s budget as well as the second third of market salary adjustments and a 1% cost of living adjustment. For UAF, this means that we will need to cover a gap of approximately $18M for FY21. This gap is in addition to any carryover gap from FY20. 

To explain this a little more, the reductions in FY20 were significant and were not known until midway through the fiscal year. Furthermore, our structure was not known and universities were limited in budget actions they could take until the October 2019 board meeting when the Board of Regents (BOR) suspended the single accreditation discussion. That lifted some limitations on university level budget planning, but not all. In order to manage the reductions in a way that created the least long-term risk to the university, UAF’s approach was to reduce units by an already planned 10% (guidance given to vice chancellors in January 2019), some vertical decisions (e.g., sales of assets), and some use of strategic budget reserves. The use of strategic budget reserve and sales of assets to realize the reductions were, of course, one-time tools that provide time for more thoughtful and strategic reductions.

Now to FY21 funding gaps. My budget direction to vice chancellors earlier this fall was to plan for a 15% reduction to their budgets. However, the 15% reduction will not meet all of the budget gap. Along with the anticipated property sales and lease revenues, we expect to have the ability to bridge roughly one-third of the cut in FY21 on a one-time basis. The bridging strategy will allow us to complete our academic and administrative review, grow our shared services model and further monetize assets. I firmly believe that our path to solid financial footing is to reduce our deferred maintenance and ongoing operations costs of facilities at the margins of our enterprise. As I have said before, let’s reduce our footprint and keep people. We are a people organization.

Expedited academic review is currently underway. Reports provided by programs on November 4 are under review through March 6. In parallel with UAF's expedited academic review process, we are launching an expedited administrative review process. Units are currently working on their reports, which will be submitted to the Governance Coordinating Committee (GCC) in the New Year. The GCC review will be completed by March 26. An open forum for feedback from the university community and governance groups will occur between March 26-April 6. Decisions will be made by me by April 10. I encourage you to visit the expedited administrative review webpage that includes the most up-to-date information on this process. 

A bit more on shared service models on campus. In previous budget columns I have discussed the need to build on the shared service models that have been organically growing at UAF. The models have been sprouting up between units as a way of providing depth and breadth of service in a reduced budget environment. In order to expand our use of shared services on the Troth Yeddha’ campus, and considering the feedback received to date, this week I will send out a request for proposals (to vice chancellors for broader distribution) to provide full service business centers comprising travel, purchasing, financial transaction management, and PPA duties for the Troth Yeddha’ campus. Judging by public input, proximity is important. So at least for the purposes of planning, an initial strategy may be to have one business center on Core Campus and one on West Ridge. 

Budget planning requires that we have strategic goals that guide our decision-making. In April of this year, we held a strategic planning forum as a first step in the public input process. Following the forum, however, the process was paused while UA’s structure was under review. Following the Board of Regents approval of the FY20 budget distribution and their decision to maintain three separately accredited universities, we are now able to re-engage with this critical process. It is vital that our budget process be informed by strategic goals. The reports from each planning committee are now available on the strategic planning website, along with a form to submit your feedback. I will be holding a strategic planning forum on January 23, 2020, as another opportunity to share thoughts and discussion. We will use this feedback to finalize the strategic plan, with a target completion date of March 1, 2020.

The upcoming January 16 and 17 Board of Regents’ meeting in Anchorage will consist of a roles and responsibilities workshop, followed by budget workshop on the afternoon of January 16. January 17 is a regular BOR business meeting. During the meeting, the Board will be taking up the 5% tuition increase proposal that was postponed in November. Once finalized, the agenda will be available on the Board of Regents’ webpage

Starting in the New Year, we will lay out our remaining FY21 budget planning strategy and start our planning for FY22. As in previous years, the planning and budget committee led by the provost and vice chancellor for administrative services included a broad range of stakeholders. Look for a memo from Provost Prakash on this process after the holidays. 

Thank you for your hard work over this past year and your dedication to UAF. I hope you have a restful holiday break and look forward to working with you in the coming New Year. 

Thank you for choosing UAF.