UA Regents approve tuition hike

Increase will hit in Fall of 2011; more financial aid sought

Posted: Sunday, September 27, 2009

The University of Alaska Board of Regents Friday approved a 7 percent tuition hike beginning in 2011, despite objections by student leaders and some regents.

Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire
Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire

"We have a lot of students who are in need, not only in rural Alaska but in urban Alaska," Regent Carl Marrs of Anchorage said during the meeting, held at the University of Alaska Southeast.

An effort by Regent Bob Martin of Juneau to cut the increase in half failed 4-5. It required six votes to pass.

The vote also was accompanied by some tough words for the Alaska Legislature. Both sides said the state should have a financial aid system similar to other states that is based on need.

The vote in favor of the increase was 6-3, with Martin voting against.

University of Alaska system President Mark Hamilton proposed an increase in tuition of 5 percent for lower division classes and 10 percent for upper division classes, resulting in an overall 7 percent increase.

The increase will show the Legislature that the universities are doing what they can to fund programs themselves, Hamilton said.

Regent Fuller Cowell of Anchorage said he hoped the tuition increase would help secure more funding from the Legislature.

"The message is, 'We are going to ask students to contribute an additional 7 percent, how can the Legislature be willing to give any less,'" he said.

Marrs and student leaders had urged an increase of 3 percent and 7 percent, lower than Hamilton proposed, but when Martin made his motion he went even lower to 2.5 percent and 5 percent for lower and upper division classes, respectively.

UAS Chancellor John Pugh warned his campus couldn't cope with an increase that small without cutting faculty positions.

"We're thin in administration, it's not just going to be administration cuts if you do this," he said.

Hamilton said even with the increase tuition in Alaska was lower than other Western state schools charge, and he expected many of those schools to also adopt additional increases before Alaska's increase takes effect in the fall of 2011.

He said he also expected students would have more opportunity to earn money for tuition at that time.

"One would hope the economy would be moving forward by then," Hamilton said.

The real issue, Hamilton said, isn't the amount of tuition but affordability.

What Hamilton said is "desperately missing in this state" is financial aid for those who need it to attend college.

"There needs to be needs-based scholarship money in this state," he said.

Alaska's scholars program and its low tuition helps many people, but some in the lower-income bracket are still unable to afford college.

Hamilton said every other state in the nation has such a program, and the Legislature should adopt one for Alaska as well.

"That is the Holy Grail, that is the key," he said.

"...We do need more aid," Pugh agreed.

After the meeting, student government Vice-president Todd Vorisek of the University of Alaska Fairbanks said Martin's proposal for an even smaller tuition increase than students suggested Thursday might have been too low to pass.

"In a way I'm disappointed, that was lower than we proposed," he said.

Vorisek said his student government had been a long-time supporter of a needs-based aid program, and would likely advocate for that again during the upcoming legislative session.

The University of Alaska says the increase will bring tuition for an average student taking a 15-hour class load to $5,115 in the Fall of 2011, still lower than comparable states.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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