‘None of us wants to do this’: UAA leaders recommend eliminating degree programs to shrink budget gap

The University of Alaska Anchorage sign in Anchorage. (Tegan Hanlon / Alaska Public Media)

Leaders at the University of Alaska Anchorage are proposing to delete, suspend or revise more than two dozen academic programs as they wrestle with a multi-year state funding cut.

“None of us wants to do this,” said UAA Chancellor Cathy Sandeen. “But this is the situation we’re in.”

UAA published the proposed program eliminations on its website on Tuesday. It follows a chaotic year for the state’s public university system, and adds another layer of uncertainty for employees and students at UAA, Alaska’s largest university.

The nine programs recommended for deletion include undergraduate degrees in theatre, sociology and environment and society. There are also master’s degree programs up for elimination such as early childhood special education and creative writing.

Sandeen said UAA needs to streamline in the face of significant reductions to funding. The university also continues to struggle with declining student enrollment.

“Our program array will be more focused,” Sandeen said. “But across the country, universities are doing this. They’re offering fewer specializations in a field. They’re helping students progress through their degree more quickly. So this really is following national trends in a way, and we will get smaller in terms of enrollment for a while, but then we’ll bounce back.”

The University of Alaska system is facing a $70 million state funding cut over three years. Last fall, the UA Board of Regents tasked its universities with reviewing their academic programs to help determine what should stay and what should go.

Sandeen said it’s still early in the review process: The university will take community feedback on the proposed eliminations. Sandeen will then send her recommendations to the regents who are expected to make the final decisions in June.

This week, UAA is holding meetings with students and employees to go over the proposed cuts, Sandeen said. It’s somber news to break.

“It is quite dramatic for a university to cut academic programs at this scale,” she said. “So it really comes as a shock and people react with anxiety and sadness because what they know as UAA is definitely changing.”

When deciding what programs should go, university leaders weighed factors including enrollment and workforce demand, Sandeen said.

“If a program is eliminated, it doesn’t mean that it was a bad program. It’s just the situation we’re in right now. Because of these dramatic, extensive budget cuts, we need to go to this extreme,” she said.

Of the more than 100 degree and certificate programs reviewed, nine were recommended for deletion, 10 for suspension, 11 for revision and about 30 for continued review.

Sandeen said UAA expects to save about $4 million by cutting programs. It’s not an immediate savings. The university needs to give faculty notice of job cuts, and it needs to provide students already enrolled in programs with a path to a degree, she said.

It wasn’t immediately clear Tuesday how many jobs would be eliminated if the proposed cuts go through.

Sandeen said just because a degree program is cut doesn’t mean every related class would also disappear.

UAA will continue to invest in the programs it keeps, she said. The proposal includes more than 45 academic programs that UAA deans are suggesting continue at the university.

“Many, many of our programs will be preserved and will continue and will get strong so UAA will still be here,” Sandeen said. “It’s just we will be a different UAA going forward.”

[View the full list of program recommendations here.]