University considering accreditation change in face of budget gap

(Creative Commons photo by Jimmy Emerson)
University of Alaska Fairbanks (Creative Commons photo by Jimmy Emerson)

As lawmakers ponder their options to fix Alaska’s widening fiscal fissure, the University of Alaska is investigating ways to fill their impending budget gap – which could be as much as $75 million.

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One potential step UA President Jim Johnsen is pitching, is to bring the entire university system under a single accreditation, rather than its current three-accreditation set-up.

“I think there’s enough potential for increased collaboration across the campuses and reduced administrative cost and more streamlined processes, that I think it will be a net benefit for our students,” Johnsen said. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t be looking at it.”

If UA pursues a singular accreditation, Johnsen says each campus would remain individually branded and the day-to-day classroom life of students would be largely unchanged.

What would differ is the administrative structure of the university system. Johnsen says having four separate bureaucracies – one for each of the main campuses and the statewide entity – is excessive:

“In order to serve our 30,000 students and then 700,000 or so Alaskans, in this tight financial time, we’ve really gotta scrutinize that administrative structure to make sure that every dollar possible is going into something that’s academic and making a difference for our students,” he said.

Johnsen has not yet pinpointed every position that would be targeted, but he estimates that savings would be somewhere in the $5-6 million range just from restructuring top-level administrators – which he says equates roughly to deans, directors and higher.

University Chancellors fall into the positions that could be cut if the university’s accreditation strategy is changed. Johnsen says that means the University of Alaska Fairbanks will not be appointing a permanent chancellor in the near term.

“With this very real possibility of a different organizational structure coming soon, I just couldn’t commit to make a permanent appointment there,” Johnsen said.

UAF was deep into its search for a new, permanent chancellor to take over for current interim Chancellor Mike Powers, who is leaving in August.

Johnsen plans to announce UAF’s next interim Chancellor by the end of the month.

There’s no firm timeline regarding when the university will decide whether or not to pursue a singular accreditation.

And though there have already been preliminary discussions, Johnsen will officially pitch the idea to the Board of Regents at its June meeting.