Guest Post: For the future of Alaska, protect the University

Representatives & Senators:

At some point or another, each one of us has had the opportunity to serve the University of Alaska (UA) as UAA Student Body President or Vice President. Many of us still reside in Alaska; we are professionals, educators, volunteers, coaches, and more. Because of our experiences as student leaders and our understanding of the role the University System plays throughout the Last Frontier, we are united in agreement that Governor Dunleavy’s veto of line items within the operating budget will thrust the State of Alaska into a devastating spiral of brain drain, decreased consumer spending, and inevitable economic contraction.

Our case for the preservation of the UA budget approved by the Legislature is straightforward: the only future for Alaska is one in which we are able to successfully diversify our economy. In order to do so, Alaska needs skilled laborers and researchers. The UA system is the sole intrastate source of skilled labor, training entering university students (of which these cuts would produce fewer) into doctors (via WWAMI), nurses (UAA), engineers (UAA, UAF), financial analysts (UAA, UAF, UAS), teachers (UAF, UAS), economists (UAA, UAF), among countless other roles in Alaska’s economy. At the time we attended, UAA offered generous scholarships for Alaskan students who graduated at the top 10% of their class and met other academic requirements. Many bright students took advantage of that scholarship and stayed in Alaska for college when they otherwise certainly would have left. They could afford the high cost of living in Alaska because UA provided a uniquely affordable option for postsecondary education, unmatched in programmatic diversity and flexibility throughout the state.

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UA’s most important students are those we refer to as “nontraditional” students, over 2,500 of whom serve or have served as members of the armed forces. These students are parents, senior citizens, and professionals who have gone back to school to get a degree or professional certification to advance their career. While oft-cited, UA’s low graduation rates are not the best metric for evaluating institutional performance: for example, the majority of UAA students take more than four years to graduate because they work at least one full time job while attending school.

Beyond issuing degrees, UA empowers the growth of Alaska. Take the impact of UA on secondary education: by providing opportunities through programs that encourage a global perspective (such as Model UN), creating a culture of service (through thousands of volunteer hours in middle and high school debate programs by members of the UAA Seawolf debate team), to building opportunities for Alaska Native students (through programs such as ANSEP), UAA as a single campus provides tremendous return on investment towards increasing our state’s collective intellectual capital. As a whole, UA provides much of the research that aids in managing Alaska’s natural resources like fisheries, understanding the impact of different policies on our economy, and generating valuable insight to the State Legislature and other policy makers. The University System has produced 13 Truman Scholars, 14 Fulbright Scholars, and a Rhodes Scholar—a testament to the quality and excellence of its academics and the commitment of its students to service and careers in the public interest.

Finally, UA itself is one of the largest employers in the state. A $130 million cut will necessitate massive layoffs. With colleges and universities in the Lower 48 hiring and continuing to rebuild after the recession, those tenured and adjunct professors, staff, and administrators will simply leave Alaska to find work elsewhere, taking their expertise, families, and economic activity with them. That spells economic disaster for the state on several fronts – housing and local property taxes to name a couple – and that alone should be a reason to reject these vetoes. Even if you think these jobs should be cut, spreading out the cuts over multiple years would be the only feasible way for the economy to absorb the shock and ease the negative macroeconomic consequences.

We recognize that efficiencies are needed, and no institution is perfect. But the Governor’s approach will not achieve efficiency. In fact, it will compromise the University’s ability to perform its most basic functions. Even now, we are hearing from high school and middle school students who are questioning whether Alaska is a viable place for them to go to college and start a career because of the ramifications of these reductions. A vibrant, healthy university system helps ensure a sustainable future for this State. We want to see that future come to fruition, and the Governor’s draconian cuts place it in jeopardy. For the good of our state, we urge you to override these vetoes and protect the University of Alaska.

Sincerely,

Clare Baldwin, 2019-20 Student Body President; B.A ‘20

Geser Bat-Erdene, 2018-19 Student Body President; B.B.A. ‘19

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Sam Erickson, 2016-17 Student Body President; B.A. ‘18

Johanna Richter, 2016-17 Student Body Vice President; B.A ‘17

Jonathon Taylor, 2015-16 Student Body President, B.A. ‘16

Matthieu Ostrander, 2015-16 Student Body Vice President, B.A. ‘16

Stacey Lucason, 2014-15 Student Body President; B.A. ‘17

Cassie West, 2013-14 Student Body Vice President; B.A. ‘14

Alejandra Buitrago, 2012-13 Student Body President; B.A. ‘14

Ryan Buchholdt, 2011-12 Student Body President; B.B.A ’12, MBA ’17

Amie Collins, 2011-12 Student Body Vice President; B.A. ‘13, M.B.A. ‘17

Michaela Kolerok, 2009-10 Student Body President, B.A ‘11

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Mallory Davis 2009-10 Student Body Vice President; B.A, ‘11, MPH 13, MD ‘18

Karl R. Wing, 2008-09 Student Body President, B.A ‘11

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Shazbot

As a lifelong Alaska I find this all extremely saddening. For the first time in my life I am considering if Alaska is a friendly place for families. We know the high cost of healthcare makes it difficult to retire or (God forbid) become sick in this state. There goes the older generation… Now I find myself looking at my two young children and wondering if they will have an accredited university or if their program of interest will even exist in the state. This could also mean the end of the widely popular Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE). An extra… Read more »

CSalaska

Students — you need to take this letter and replace senators and representatives with two words: University Leadership. Your leadership in the UA system failed you. The padded salaries and excessive spending on irrelevant degree programs, facilities and athletic programs created a bloated budget. A 17% system-wide reduction is not the end of the world. Call on your UA administrative leaders to take pay cuts so no one looses their job, increase revenue from the UA’s land grant department, scale back on new construction projects that UA cannot afford. Did you know there’s 100K acres of land managed by your… Read more »

Dan Kline

This is terrific. Thank you USUAA leadership!