Dive Brief: 

  • In the wake of severe systemwide budget cuts, the University of Alaska Anchorage is proposing to eliminate nine undergraduate and graduate programs, including in anthropology, sociology and theatre. 
  • The system’s three flagships are reviewing where they can trim their budgets to absorb a $70 million drop in state funding spread out over three years. U of Alaska’s board of regents is expected to make final decisions on program cuts in June. 
  • The university also recommended that 10 programs stop accepting new students, including those in supply chain operations, welding and hospitality administration. 

Dive Insight:

In response to the massive budget cut approved last year, the board of regents in October asked its three flagship universities to review their programs. The Anchorage leadership made its recommended cuts based on factors such as enrollment, cost of the program and workforce demand, said Cathy Sandeen, the Anchorage campus’s chancellor, in an interview with Education Dive. 

“They’re preliminary recommendations,” she said. “But we do have a large budget gap to cover, and I know that, sadly, we will be eliminating some academic programs in order to meet that reduction.” 

However, the university also flagged several programs — including in accounting, health sciences and nursing — that could receive additional resources, such as new faculty or staff members. 

The Anchorage campus expects an $11 million budget reduction in the 2020-21 fiscal year. The proposed program cuts will save it between $3 million to $4 million, while the rest will come by lowering administrative spending, including through layoffs. 

The news sent members of the campus community reeling. “They may have had an inkling that they might be vulnerable based on enrollments and so forth, but it doesn’t become real until these sorts of announcements are made,” Sandeen said. “Yesterday and Monday —​ those were difficult days for our campus.”

Brian Cook, chair of the theatre department, pushed back on the criteria the university used to reach its decisions. 

The recommendations look “very narrowly at the value of any education program,” he said in an interview with Education Dive. “The programs that were selected for deletion, including mine, bring a tremendous amount of value to the university through the students, through the art we produce, and none of that was considered in the process.”

The Anchorage campus will have to provide teach-out options for students in affected programs in order for its accreditor will approve any cuts or suspensions, Sonny Ramaswamy, president of the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU), a regional accreditor, told Education Dive in an email. 

“At this time, there is no … risk to their accreditation,” he added. “[H]owever, NWCCU continues to actively monitor the impact of the significant structural changes occurring as a result of the funding and enrollment challenges at each of the institutions.”

The board of regents raised in-state tuition by 5% starting in fall 2020 in the hopes of bringing in a $7 million in additional revenue. However, a 10% decline in enrollment at the Anchorage campus last fall may impact those gains. 

Several issues likely drove students away. For one, students were notified over the summer that their grants and scholarships weren’t guaranteed for the next year, though the funding was restored in August — just weeks before the start of the fall semester. 

Around the same time, the system’s board of regents publicly considered merging the three campuses into one institution that shared accreditation — a proposal that was strongly opposed by students and faculty. Board members scuttled that idea in October.  

The recommended program cuts at Anchorage will likely cause the university to focus more on its workforce development mission, Sandeen said. 

“In the big picture,” she said, “University of Alaska Anchorage will look different going forward.”

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