Alaska colleges face consolidation

Kenai Peninsula College is a two-year institution in southern Alaska. (Photo: University of Alaska Anchorage)

The University of Alaska (UA) board of regents’ decision to consolidate the three universities in the system into one accredited institution could have a catastrophic impact on the system, including its associate degree-granting “community campuses.”

The board’s 8-3 vote this week to transform the system into “one accredited University of Alaska” was a response to Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s move to cut funding for the system by 41 percent. That could result in closing some campuses to eliminate duplicate programs, but those details haven’t been worked out yet.

“At this time, we don’t know the possible impact,” said Gary Turner, director/CEO of Kenai Peninsula College, an associate-degree granting campus that is part of the University of Alaska Anchorage. “There is a possibility that some campuses will close. With a 41 percent budget cut, everything is on the table. The governor put us in a very bad spot.”

A new structure

The resolution calls for a newly formed board of regents subcommittee to develop a revised organizational structure for UA. The resolution directs the subcommittee to:

  • Prepare a plan for board approval to transition to a single institutional accreditation over the 2019-20 academic year.
  • Reduce administrative costs through consolidation and standardization of processes in back-office functional areas, including information technology, finance, university relations and procurement.
  • Prepare a strategic approach to combine duplicative academic colleges and schools, consolidate research institutes and enhance integration of community campuses for review at the board’s September meeting.

The University of Alaska system consists of UA Fairbanks, UA Anchorage and UA Southeast. Each university has multiple campuses, including 13 associate degree-granting community campuses throughout the state.

During the board meeting on July 30, the chancellors of the three universities said they supported an alternative consortium model, the Anchorage Daily News reported. That proposal, rejected by the regents, would have meant retaining the three separate universities, increasing collaboration and reducing statewide administration.

Financial crisis

Earlier in July, the regents declared “financial exigency,” which allowed them to move quickly to cut costs in the face of a financial crisis. That followed an announcement by Moody’s Investors Service to downgrade UA’s bond rating due to “the severity and magnitude” of the crisis.

Noting that there is a great deal of uncertainty about how the consolidation will happen, “We’re looking forward to getting answers from the regents,” Turner said. “There will be a lot of top-down decision-making. We’re on a really quick timeline to transition from three accredited universities into one.”

“We’re treading on ground no other universities have faced in the United States,” he added.

About the Author

Ellie Ashford
is associate editor of Community College Daily.