Most students, like myself, take tuition hikes as an inflationary fact of life. The university raises our student pay by $0.50, they raise our tuition by 10%-22%. Sounds fair, right?
No. No, that isn’t fair, and I have a serious problem with it.
“Because, Jeremia,” the imaginary Board of Regents-in-my-head say, “We have a $5.5 budget shortfall.”
“But, why do we have a budget shortfall,” I ask? “What got us to this point?”
“That’s for us to know, and for you to pay for.” They say to me.
While this conversation is fictional, it isn’t far from something that could very easily take place. The university has been keen to hike student tuition rates without disclosing the reasons why beyond vague generalities. Here is the primary reason that the university system has given: State lawmakers are making us do it.
Not a very satisying answer, is it?
Why does the state want the UA to be more self sufficient?
My answer: The state wants us to be more self-sufficient because we, an educational institution, are a drain on the states coffers, even though only 45% of the UA operating budget comes from the state. We are such a drain, in fact, that Governor Parnell signed legislation that “increases tax credits for contributions to Alaska’s higher education and job training institutions.”
But, wait, isn’t the UA a public institution?: Yes. Yes it is. (Scroll to the top of page 3.)
But, what is a public institution? A public institution is an entity or organization that is controlled by the state.
So, let me get this straight: The university is a state institution that the state doesn’t want to support (as much) anymore? That’s what it’s starting to sound like to me. Add all of this to the fact that the Board of Regents (BoR) is meeing in Juneau. While I have nothing against the University of Alaska – Southeast (UAS) at Juneau, I see the BoR decision to meet there suspicious as UAS only accounts for 2,208 students (2010 data) as compared to 10,446 at UAF (2009 data) and an estimated 20,000 at UAA (2010 data). While all I can do is infer, I am infering that the BoR is meeting in Juneau for less then noble reason (i.e. to give the UAS population a chance to protest).
In an April article by Jeff Richardson of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner (FDNM), Kate Ripley, UA’s own public relations woman, said that (to quote the article) “increased day-to-day costs, reductions in private donations, increased student demand for costly new academic programs, and a leveling off of new research grants are among the factors that have dropped revenue or increased expenses at UA.”
Why are the day-t0-day costs going up? Why is there a reduction in private donations? What “costle new academic programs” are students asking for? Why are research grants leveling off? Specifics people, please.
Like I said before, tuition hikes are a necessity. Like death and taxes. However, adding a 10% hike with an additional 12% the next year is unreasonable. Will there be some sort of moratorium placed on tuition hikes afterward?
In the same FDNM article, Ripley continued by saying that UA hopes to cut costs by “capping pensions, cutting travel costs and shopping for less expensive health-care benefits.” While it’s nice to see that it isn’t only the students being hit, students still appear (to me) to be the ones shouldering most of the burden.
But, what do we do about it? We research and respond appropriately. Here are a few things I recommend the university implement instead of the proposed tuition hikes:
- Students, staff, and faculty take a temporary 3 year halt in pay increases.
- Offer staff and faculty a leave of absence with 50% pay.
- Hire student workers for staff positions. This is already being considered.
- Raise tuition by 10% with a guarantee that said tuition will not be increased for at least 5 years.
- Continue implementing the Tier 1 downgrade. This is already being considered.
- Evaluate the pros and cons of contracting outside the university for basic services. This is already being considered.
- Offer “non-represented” staff incentives to refrain from unionizing.
- Organize and invest in university-lead and based businesses (like a recycling plant).
- Discover what programs and departments are “money-sinks” and merge them with other existing programs.
- Continue encouraging private donations.
Well, UAF, what do you think?