Budget update: Nov. 11, 2020

November 11, 2020

Tori Tragis

— by Dan White, chancellor

The Board of Regents (BOR) held a full board meeting on Thursday and Friday of last week. On the BOR agenda was UAF’s request for differentiated tuition. The board approved the request for next academic year (2021-2022). 

UAF’s request for differentiated tuition will increase upper-division tuition by 2.5% and graduate-level tuition by 5%, holding lower-division tuition flat. This is an important step for keeping Community and Technical College tuition rates affordable, maintaining academic excellence, and getting UAF’s research university tuition more in line with our peers. Allowing for the decoupling of the two tuition rates is a critical step for UAF as we distinguish ourselves by the value proposition. The research university experience and the outstanding quality of world-class faculty support tuition differentiation. It is also key to our enrollment strategy of increasing financial aid and scholarship opportunities for students both at the research university and at the community campuses. At the same time, we want a tuition at our Community and Technical College that provides an entry into postsecondary education and critical training for the jobs that make our community run. 

UAF is leading in understanding the market and adjusting our packaging and pricing to support students, whether they are on the community college track or the research university. The Nanook Pledge, military pricing, Alaska Advantage, North Star College, targeted surcharges for high-demand programs in the School of Management and the College of Engineering and Mines, and other initiatives are all part of this strategy. 

UAF’s strategic plan and strategic enrollment planning have provided guidance as we shape our tuition approach moving forward. I should note that the strategic planning groups whose work was suspended during the discussion of systemwide consolidation have resumed their work. The UAF strategic planning and strategic enrollment planning teams are made up of faculty, staff and students. My appreciation to them for their work!

Along the same lines of budget, some years ago I served on a small team formed by then Chancellor Rogers to look at budget reduction and potential revenue options. At that time the charge was to identify $30 million worth of reductions for consideration in anticipation of state budget reductions. At the time, the university was not facing such a significant budget drop but the goal was a thought process around how these issues would be addressed and to understand the implications and collateral effects of cuts. It was a good lesson that demonstrated that there are no silver bullets and no unit unaffected in major reductions. Every bit is a challenge, and every thing we do serves an important role and has a constituency.

Another lesson learned was that once you take fixed costs, such as debt service and heat and power, off the table, the “budget options” are considerably reduced and revenues take time to cultivate and show an ROI. We have been pursuing several new revenue and enrollment strategies in the last few years that I know will help contribute to a diverse UAF budget; however, reductions are still needed and critical to adapting to a new more constrained fiscal situation. 

As we move forward through FY21 and prepare for FY22, I will be putting together a Budget Options Task Force that I will charge to do some thinking around budget reduction options. 

Options outlined by the group will be included in considerations of the Planning and Budget Committee, for consideration by deans and directors, or vice chancellors, as they work through their own budget options.

The Budget Options Task Force will be structured similarly to other budget planning groups. The group will be made up of seven to nine members by nomination from the provost and vice chancellors. Members will be selected from areas specific to administration, strategic planning, students, and faculty (academics and research) from across UAF.

Please look for additional information on the Budget Options Task Force in the coming weeks. I plan to have the group commence their work by early December with final recommendations by March.