UA Regents reject call for tuition increase

Posted: Sunday, September 26, 2010

The University of Alaska Board of Regents has rejected a call for an extra tuition increase next year, and even showed resistance to the size of a proposed boost in the following year's tuition, as well.

Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire
Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire

Peter Finn, with the Coalition of Student Leaders, called Friday's vote by the regents in Juneau a "huge victory," and said he was happy they sided with the students.

Who they might have been against was a little less clear. The increase was first proposed by former University of Alaska President Mark Hamilton, and was continued by new President Pat Gamble when he took over this summer.

It was also supported by the chancellors of the Fairbanks, Anchorage and Juneau campuses.

After the regents voted unanimously to scrap the extra increase, University of Alaska Southeast Chancellor John Pugh praised the decision and said the Juneau-based school would be able to cope without the additional revenue.

"I think this is a good decision and I think we can manage it at the University of Alaska Southeast," he said.

The additional increase next year would have brought in about $2.5 million in additional tuition revenue across the University of Alaska system, spokeswoman Kate Ripley said after the meeting.

Regents at the meeting appeared to not have been provided information by university administration about the impact on budgets of rejecting the additional increase.

Regent Fuller Cowell of Anchorage speculated that it might cost the system $8 million dollars to reject the additional increase.

"We are now digging an $8 million hole that we are now going to have to get somewhere else," Cowell said.

Limiting the increase will have an impact, Gamble said.

"There's no free lunch here, when we squeeze this balloon, it's going to bulge out somewhere else," he said.

University administrators who proposed the increase provided no explanation of why it was needed, but justified it saying it was still less than comparable higher education institutions.

They also said that key legislators, including powerful leaders of the House and Senate Finance Committees, have been urging the university to raise tuition so as to put less demand on the state's general fund.

"It didn't just happen because we wanted more money," said Wendy Redman, the system's executive vice president for university relations.

Student Regent Ashton Compton, who attends the university in Fairbanks, led off the challenge to the increase, criticizing especially the proposal to change tuition for 2011-2012 academic year, which regents had last year agreed to raise by only 5 percent. Hamilton and Gamble had proposed upping that to 10 percent.

They'd also proposed increases of either 10 or 12 percent for the 2012-2013 academic year. The regents took no action on that request, and sought additional information before their next meeting in November.

Some regents said they were especially troubled by the idea of changing a tuition level for next year for which they'd previously made a commitment to students.

"We already made a deal," said Regent Tim Brady of Anchorage.

"I just don't think it's appropriate to go back and make that change," he said.

"I think it's a deal we need to honor," agreed Regent Erik Drygas of Fairbanks.

Cowell disputed the university had made a binding commitment simply because its past practice had been to set tuition for two years in the future, but joined in supporting the motion to stay with the original 5 percent increase.

Gamble said he'd been swayed by student protests that the university shouldn't be asking for more than it had originally said it needed from students. It wasn't the number of protest signs, but the message from Finn and others that swayed him.

"I think a deal's a deal, as well," he said.

It might be different if the situation had changed materially, but Gamble said it hadn't.

After the meeting Pugh said he'd originally supported the proposed increase after hearing concerns from legislators.

"They wanted us to raise more funds," Pugh said. "They wanted other funds - it doesn't have to be tuition and fees, it could be private funding from corporations and others - but they wanted us to raise more of those dollars," Pugh said.

The university will continue to look for other options, he said.

• Contact Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or Legislators had sought more money from students to reduce general fund impact

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