UA President Johnsen shares outlook for university budget

University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen talks about the spread of the university’s campuses @360 in Juneau on Tuesday. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen has spent the last few months advocating for more funding for the university, arguing that it cannot withstand continued budget cuts.

Listen now

The Alaska House of Representatives passed its version of the state operating budget Monday by a narrow margin. It includes $19 million more for the university’s operating budget than Gov. Bill Walker proposed.

Johnsen, appearing on Forum@360, said he was grateful the House decided to increase UA’s budget and is hopeful the Senate will follow suit.

“I can’t control that process, certainly,” Johnsen said. “But what I can do is continue every single day advocating for the interests of the university but always setting those in the context of the interest of the state.”

The university’s annual budget has declined by more than $60 million since 2014, forcing cutbacks that have affected class offerings, staffing and campus enrollment.

In 2016, Johnsen put forward Strategic Pathways, his plan to cut costs and consolidate administration while making the university function better. UA faculty and staff last year criticized Strategic Pathways, and Johnsen. The plan is in its final phase and being implemented across UA campuses.

“I think that the tough decisions the regents have made, the university has made, has gone a long way in persuading legislators that now is the time to stop the cuts and to actually start investing back into higher education for the state,” Johnsen said.

Part of that reinvestment effort includes the new, consolidated Alaska College of Education based in Juneau. Last week, the University of Alaska Southeast announced that Steve Atwater will lead the school as the new executive dean. The university has set a goal to produce 90 percent of the K-12 teachers hired in the state by 2025.

“There’s no more important job in Alaska, in my view, than teachers,” Johnsen said. “And we’re importing 70 percent each year, 70 percent of the new teachers hired in the state. And they churn at a very high rate.”

Johnsen said the university plans more scholarships and outreach to recruit prospective teachers for Alaska classrooms.

The Teach for Alaska Presidential Scholarship provides up to $12,000 to Alaskans pursuing a teaching degree at any UA campus.