UAA Undergoes Prioritization Process

With budget cuts and declining state funding looming, the University of Alaska Anchorage is in the process of scrutinizing its priorities to figure out what is sustainable, and what is not.

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When officials at UAA discuss prioritization, what they are talking about is scaling back in areas that aren’t preparing students for today’s careers or addressing the state’s future workforce demands.

Staff and faculty groups are spearheading the initial information gathering and evaluation process, which is split into two different areas.

“One of the functions that are performed in the university, the administrative, physical functions…everything from mowing the grass to running my office,” UAA Provost and Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Bear Baker said. “The other part is the academic programs. So, one of the things we’re looking at is every single program, and instead of thinking of them as we have in the past, we’re required to review programs on a regular basis by the board of regents.”

“We’re looking at programs as anything consumes resource in one form or the other.”

UAA offers around 360 academic programs ranging from bachelor’s, master’s and Ph. D programs, to certificates, minors and occupational endorsements.

Baker says a lot of the university’s growth has come in the past 15 years or so.

“It was easy to justify just about any new program against our mission at the time,” he said. “And with new money coming in all the time, it was easy to add programs.”

“We just didn’t pay much attention to getting rid of those programs that were no longer well subscribed.”

Most of the new money came from state allocations. But, now state funding is declining, and Baker says it’s a trend that could continue.

“If we believe the governor is really going to go for the sustainable budget over a four or five year period, on the back of an envelope, I calculate the academic side of the house, my side of the house’s, responsibility will be in the neighborhood of 180 faculty positions that will disappear,” Baker said. “If 180 faculty positions disappear, that’s a lot of classes and a lot of programs. We don’t know that for sure.”

It’s not clear what will happen in future state budgets, but the university did see about $7 million in cuts this year. That means about 20 faculty positions will be eliminated; Baker says most of those cuts are being addressed by not filling vacant positions, but he says that’s not a good long-term strategy. That’s where the prioritization process will come into play.

Vice Chancellor Bill Spindle agrees the past two decades have seen expanded course offerings, but says now it’s time for the university to focus on its strengths.

“Our strengths are workforce development, health, engineering, business, education, the sciences,” Spindle said. “We have strengths in lots of areas, but now we have to refine those strengths, and that’s basically what’s gonna happen out of this prioritization.”]

Reports compiled by the staff and faculty groups evaluating the alignment of university functions have been submitted to the Chancellor’s office and are under consideration.

Changes stemming from the reports will likely begin as soon as FY16.