ANCHORAGE - Opening enrollment at the University of Alaska system hit an all-time high this fall and is expected to climb higher before year's end, UA officials said.
Enrollment of full-time students grew 6.3 percent over this time last year and 13 percent in the past two years to a record 16,449, said UA spokesman Bob Miller. Total enrollment of full- and part-time students is 28,961.
The University of Alaska Southeast, which had a record-high enrollment last year, dropped about 1.7 percent to 1,426 full-time students, which includes undergraduates and graduate students. University officials say that number could climb before the semester is finished.
Combining this year and last year, UAS has had a roughly 10 percent jump in enrollment, UAS Chancellor John Pugh pointed out.
But with the drop this year, UAS has had to reduce its expenses, such as by delaying some hires, he said. No fall classes were canceled, and if any future classes are canceled they would be optional, not required, courses, he said.
"There does have to be budget restraint," Pugh said. "We are working on restraining some of our expenditures, particularly in nonpersonnel."
UAS is down about 5 percent in tuition revenue, but tuition makes up only 40 percent of its budget. The rest comes from the state general fund. The reduction in tuition revenue "is manageable," Pugh said.
University officials attribute the statewide enrollment increase to a 28 percent increase in state funding since 1999.
"Beginning in '99, with an increase in public investment by the governor and Legislature, the university started turning around and now the people of Alaska are noticing the difference," said UA President Mark Hamilton.
The university expanded its workforce training programs, including health care curricula in addition to its nursing school, and another program that targets jobs in the natural resource industries, Miller said.
The UA scholars program, which grants free tuition to students in the top 10 percent of their class at Alaska high schools, also has spurred growth, Miller said.
Student population at the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus grew 10 percent over the previous year. It has 5,210 full-time students.
Enrollment at the Anchorage campus increased 5.7 percent over last year. It has 9,812 full-time students.
Opening enrollment figures historically grow over the course of the first semester. Last year at UA they grew by more than 5,893 students at the end of the first semester, officials said. A similar increase is expected this year.
Hamilton plans to ask the UA Board of Regents for $10 million more in state funding next year. The 5 percent increase in state funding would be in addition to the $215 million received last year, Miller said.
Senate Finance Committee Co-Chairman Gary Wilken, a Fairbanks Republican, said the enrollment growth demonstrates that the state's investment over the past few years is worthwhile, Wilken said. The growth also can spur new research funding.
Still, it is unclear how the Legislature will react to the request given the state's fiscal woes, Wilken said.
"It'll be a battle, but I'm not ready at all to concede that we can't get it," Wilken said.