Budget update: May 29

May 29, 2019

Tori Tragis

— by Anupma Prakash, provost and executive vice chancellor 

The academic deans and directors have been working hard using a multi-pronged approach to address the anticipated budget shortfall in FY20, while still aiming to contribute to the University of Alaska’s proposed 2017-2025 goals and measures. President Johnsen also urged us to grow our student-faculty ratio and to focus on a seamless student experience as we look at academic program offerings across the UA system. UAF is committed to improving both.

One way to grow the student-faculty ratio is by increasing the number of students. UAF has taken a systematic approach through the strategic enrollment planning process to grow the student numbers over the next five years. A special thanks to the many staff, faculty and administrators who continue to contribute to the SEP process.

Though our current enrollment numbers show a decline, the SEP action plans we will implement, along with the efforts of individual employees, are projected to help us reverse the enrollment trend. Growth in online education, dual enrollment and high-demand academic programs such as One Health, sport management, and many occupational endorsements and A.A. degrees are seen as key to new student recruitment. Greater focus on academic advising will further improve student retention contributing to a healthy student number at UAF.

Another way to increase the student-faculty ratio is by decreasing the number of instructional faculty. Since 2014, we have suspended or deleted 22 programs, put seven programs on an improvement plan, and reduced our faculty lines by 12 FTE through a set of special program reviews. UAF also lost faculty through retirements and attrition. Overall, we have 152 fewer faculty than in 2014, a 15% reduction over four years. Due to a series of budget cuts, we made a choice to replace only few of those faculty positions.

We managed with fewer faculty by streamlining program offerings and redistributing the teaching among the remaining faculty members. We are also discontinuing selected low enrollment electives. We are further reducing our faculty numbers by decreasing the number of sections and frequency of offerings of some of our classes, especially the General Education Requirements. As an example, over the last three semesters the College of Natural Science and Mathematics reduced the number of math and science GERs by 44%, from 90 sections to 50 sections. Through continuous monitoring and such judicious measures, we will continue to increase the student-faculty ratio.

It is important to note that UAF is somewhat unique in the high number of faculty who have joint appointments between an academic college and a research unit. This complexity does not lend itself well to the computation of a student-faculty ratio that was designed for universities composed of full-time teaching faculty. This ratio has been much debated, and UAF is working to propose a more representative way to compute the ratio that would account for UAF’s greater focus on research.

Deans and directors are also working with faculty to refine the curricula and program offerings within their units, while working with me to look at statewide synergies in academic offerings. Some noteworthy examples of the latter are the joint UAA-UAF philosophy program, the expanded offering of the initial licensure programs at UAF’s School of Education, and the nursing program offered at UAF community campuses by UAA. We also plan to revisit the previously conducted special program reviews. Insufficient progress toward the improvement plan could form the basis for program suspension or discontinuation. Savings from any program discontinuation will not be immediate as there will be a teach-out phase to allow enrolled students to complete their programs.

Though each dean and director is planning to manage their unit budget in a slightly different way, they are all looking at a combination of some of the following measures:

  • permanent reduction in faculty lines,

  • one-time saving from sabbaticals,

  • voluntary reduction in selected faculty contracts,

  • reduction in the number of staff or staff contracts where feasible,

  • reduction in some the number of teaching assistantships where possible,

  • increase in class sizes to avoid a new section where possible,

  • increase in enrollment by offering high-demand programs.

Though the reduction of course sections and low-enrollment electives has resulted in a modest reduction of adjunct faculty, the deans and directors advocate for continued support for UAF’s adjunct faculty as the adjunct faculty generally have non-overlapping expertise with our tenure-track faculty and play a critical role in our academic program delivery.