University regents to discuss budget proposals

President expected to seek fees from elders, raise eligibility age

Posted: Tuesday, September 20, 2005

FAIRBANKS - Regents for the University of Alaska expect a flurry of public comments as they tackle highly debated budget proposals at their fall meeting this week.

The 11-member board will consider a 17-percent tuition increase over the next two years, restrictions to a senior citizen waiver program and a large budget request to the Legislature.

"These are big decisions that will require a lot of discussion," said Fairbanks regent Cynthia Henry.

The university received $248 million from the state for its operating budget and $48 million for its capital budget for the current fiscal year.

University of Alaska President Mark Hamilton has proposed that the state contribute $295.5 million for the operating budget and $259 million to fund major projects.

The university's total proposed budget is $793.6 million to cover operational costs and a $329 million capital budget.

University officials said the money is needed to stay ahead of rising employee health and retirement benefits and recent surges in oil prices.

About $146 million of the state capital request is for new construction, namely science facilities on the Fairbanks and Anchorage campuses. An additional $72 million is for maintenance of existing buildings and $24 million will allow the university to bring its facilities up to state safety codes.

Tuition at the university has risen 30 percent in the past three years. Hamilton will ask the board to approve two more rounds of increases totaling 17 percent over the next two years.

If approved, an undergraduate taking 12 credits a semester at the Fairbanks campus would pay $3,072 an academic year by fall 2007.

"Nobody likes to have to pay more, but the truth is a top-notch education at any one of our University of Alaska campuses is still less expensive than at many of our counterparts in the Lower 48," Hamilton said in a written statement.

UA has a total statewide enrollment of 32,000, which brings in $70 million in tuition and fees annually.

Public outcry has mostly been directed at proposed changes to the senior citizens waiver program.

University officials say the program, which allows Alaska residents 60 years and older to take classes at no charge, is unfair to younger students who are not eligible for any special discount.

Proponents of the program argue that the cost to the university is minimal and that elder students are important contributors to the classroom experience. AARP Alaska has collected nearly 3,000 signatures opposing the changes.

Hamilton will recommend replacing the waiver with a 50 percent discount and raising the eligibility age to 65. The regents are expected to approve Hamilton's proposal.

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