UA president praises faculty, students in budget request

Posted: Wednesday, March 05, 2003

University of Alaska President Mark Hamilton delivered an upbeat message to lawmakers Tuesday, looking back on five years of accomplishments in an effort to persuade the Legislature to give more money for next year.

The presentation before the House and Senate Finance Committees sounded much the same as last year. Hamilton highlighted gains made in student enrollment and retention and attributed those gains to the university's improved reputation. UA enrollment is up 9.6 percent this year.

"More are coming. More are staying. It's working," Hamilton said.

The university also is paying for a larger share of its own budget, Hamilton said. The university is asking for a $647.3 million operating budget for next year, an increase of $13.6 million in state spending.

"Ten years ago, the state paid 60 cents on the dollar for university needs. Today, they pay 40 cents," he said.

Hamilton also noted the addition of Nobel Prize-winning economist Vernon Smith to the UAA faculty, along with several other high-profile professors.

New to this year's speech was a stack of testimonials from industry executives, graduates and students. Hamilton read from nine letters during his speech, most praising UA's industry training.

Hamilton also discussed a recently approved 10-percent tuition hike, saying the university is closer to where it should be in revenues.

"Tuition is moving ahead now that we have a product of value we can charge them for," he said. "I would have felt like an idiot raising tuition five years ago when we had nothing to offer."

Questions about the performance of rural campuses followed the speech. Sen. Lyman Hoffman, a Bethel Democrat, berated Hamilton for not discussing rural issues.

"Every year it seems as though your presentation does not address the issue," Hoffman said.

Hamilton said Alaska Natives make up 13 percent of the total enrollment and the university has seen a 27 percent increase in Alaska Natives in the past five years. But he conceded the university has had a difficult time tracking retention of Native students.

Legislators also questioned whether the university was doing all it could to look for money from other sources, such as alumni. Only 4 percent of UA alumni contribute to the university, Hamilton acknowledged. Nationally, the figure is 12 percent.

Sen. Robin Taylor, a Wrangell Republican, suggested Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau help pay for campuses as smaller towns do for their rural campuses.

"Maybe those communities could participate ... and you wouldn't be here looking for an increase," Taylor said.

Hamilton said the university is working to attract more funding from outside the system, hiring a development director in the last 18 months. The institution has also increased foundation grants.

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