College accrediting commission warns on U of A budget cuts

    Anchorage, Alaska (KINY) - The university system faces "disastrous effects" from budget cuts, an accrediting agency president warns in a letter to Legislature .

    As Alaska legislators prepare to consider whether to accept or override budget vetoes imposed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy, the head of the commission that accredits colleges here and six other states is warning that inadequate funding for the University of Alaska system “could have disastrous effects”—including loss of accreditation.
    In a letter addressed to the state Senate and state House, Sonny Ramaswamy, president of the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, said the detrimental impact of the $130 million vetoed by the governor “could be felt for generations.” That cut was in addition to the $5 million trimmed from the university system by the Legislature’s budget.
    Legislators are scheduled to convene in joint session Wednesday to debate the vetoes. Ramaswamy said they should consider the risks involved with the governor’s massive cut.
    “The proposed 41-percent reduction in state funding to the public institutions of higher learning in Alaska poses a material and significant risk to the quality of education provided to the students
    within those institutions,” his letter stated. “If student success and achievement are demonstrably affected, it could potentially jeopardize the accreditation status of these institutions.”
    The NWCCU is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and accredits institutions of higher education in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington state.
    Since Dunleavy announced 182 separate line-item budget vetoes on June 28, the huge reduction for the University system has drawn the most attention from legislators and Alaskans in general. The higher education cut accounts for nearly 30 percent of the $444 million that the governor deleted from the state operating budget passed by the Legislature.
    Abel Bult-Ito, president of the United Academics faculty union that is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers and the American Association of University Professors, said legislators would do well to heed the warning.
    “When the president of the NWCCU sends a letter to the Alaska Legislature to address concerns about the effects of a $135 million cut to the university on the accreditation of our three separately accredited universities we should all pay attention,” he said.
    In the letter to legislators, Ramaswamy pointed out some of the academic concerns associated with accreditation. “Accredited institutions offer universally accepted degrees and programs. Students at only accredited institutions are eligible for federal funding, i.e., Title IV federal financial aid and federally sponsored grant programs.”
    The NWCCU president urged the Legislature to reconsider the “drastic budget reductions” imposed by the governor’s veto. “I remain hopeful that you will protect the interests of the students who attend the University of Alaska institutions because they’re critically important to the future of Alaska,” he concluded.
    Bernard Aoto, a Political Science undergraduate and president of the Associated Students of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said many students would have to consider other colleges and universities if accreditation becomes a serious issue for UA. “Without accreditation, students will be forced to look at other universities outside of Alaska to continue pursuing their professional, technical, or graduate degree programs. Students that do not have the means to leave the state are left without any pathway to a successful career,” he said, “because their undergraduate degrees would not be from an accredited institution.”
    If the Legislature votes on override measures, it will take a super-majority of 45 of the combined 60 members of the Senate and House to reject any particular veto. The deadline for final action is Friday.


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