Alaska may face a large fiscal gap, but University of Alaska President Mark Hamilton says legislators shouldn't look at higher education if they want to cut spending.
"We're not part of the problem," he said. "We're part of the answer. ... Investment in education is the only way forward."
Hamilton was in Juneau on Tuesday and spoke to the Juneau Rotary about the accomplishments of the university over the past several years. Looking ahead to fiscal year 2003, which begins July 1, 2002, the university is requesting an $18.5 million operating budget increase from the state Legislature. Gov. Tony Knowles endorsed a $17 million increase.
Hamilton said the added money is in response to the requests of citizens around the state for more university services.
"I've been very consistent with the Legislature: I'm going to be informed of state needs and will ask for money to apply to those state needs," he said. "We're not done yet with where we need to go. It's not that the university needs much more (on its own). It's that the state needs more of the university."
Hamilton said one focus of this year's budget request is student recruitment and retention initiatives such as the Alaska Scholars program, which has drawn hundreds of Alaska students to attend the University of Alaska rather than schools in the Lower 48.
Hamilton said those students serve as "emissaries" to other talented students in their hometowns, and have a greater chance of remaining in Alaska upon graduation.
"Anytime we get someone, the chances they will stay in the state are tremendous," he said.
In addition to funds spent systemwide, the $18.5 million request includes more than $700,000 for programs specific to or originating from University of Alaska Southeast campuses in Juneau, Ketchikan and Sitka.
UAS Chancellor John Pugh said much of that funding increase for UAS, should it be approved, will be devoted to new hires. On the Juneau campus, that could include two new core liberal-arts faculty to expand junior- and senior-level class offerings.
"We are now beginning to see a necessity to add upper-division coursework," Pugh said. "Students need more breadth."
The Juneau campus also could add faculty in the business department, with a focus in small business administration, in construction technology and for on-campus and distance-delivery elementary education courses, Pugh said.
Other UAS-specific programs in the budget request include a marine welding program at Sitka and an associate's degree program in forestry at Ketchikan.
Pugh said the proposed programs and faculty hires will play a key role in any state economic initiatives.
"How are you going to do that if you don't have a strong university system working with industry to create the jobs?" Pugh said. "In most states, the university is a critical piece of (the) economic engine."