JUNEAU EMPIRE: Alaska students protest tuition hikes

April 16, 2010
Pat Forgey

College students were quick to protest proposed tuition hikes Thursday, after University of Alaska President Mark Hamilton called for increases far exceeding the rate of inflation, citing the economic outlook and tight state budgets.

Under university policy, the president must present the tuition proposal for the year beginning in fall of 2012, with a decision on the proposal expected at the Board of Regents meeting in September of this year. That meeting will be held in Juneau.

Student government leaders quickly announced opposition to the increase, and raised questions about whether it was needed. They held a rally Thursday at the campus in Juneau.

Tyler Preston, student body president at UAS, said the increase was too big, and not sufficiently explained.

"Mostly our problem comes from the lack of transparency or understanding of where the money is going to be going," Preston said.

Preston said the signs advertising the protest were printed before Hamilton's formal announcement and refer to a 15 percent increase. Early reports had suggested the increase would be in that range, while it wound up between 10 percent and 12 percent.

Hamilton also proposed an unusual increase to some tuition rates for the year beginning in the fall of 2011, which had previously been set.

"The economic outlook of our state and country, rigid budget discussions at the state level and ongoing increases in day-to-day costs in areas such as health care and employee wages cause me to propose this action," said Hamilton, who had earlier announced his resignation and who is soon to be replaced by Pat Gamble, currently the president of the Alaska Railroad Corp.

Under Hamilton's proposal for the fall of 2012, the cost-per-credit-hour for the University of Alaska Southeast and most other campuses would rise from the current rate of $154 per credit hour for lower division classes and $167 per hour for upper division, to $178 per hour for lower division and $206 per hour for upper division.

Hamilton also proposed revising the increases for classes beginning in the fall of 2011 from the previously approved five percent to 10 percent, but for lower division classes only. Upper division classes were already expecting a 10 percent increase.

The proposed increases would mean a continuing series of 10-percent increases over successive years.

Hamilton's announcement defended the size of the increase, noting that it was below the university's western U.S. peers.

"Looking back to when I began as president, the Board of Regents raised tuition 36.6 percent less than that of our western peers," Hamilton noted. He has been with the university since 1988.

The regents set tuition well in advance, allowing time for student and public input before decisions, as well as time for students and families to plan for their financial needs.

Hamilton said that was intentional to provide plenty of public input before a decision is made.

"Please remember this notice marks the beginning of tuition discussions, not the end," Hamilton wrote.

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