I’ve posted about several American states and their current educational woes, driven by budget problems. For example, Louisiana higher education is under tremendous pressure due to the collapse of oil prices, as that state’s budget depends on that industry.
Let me add Alaska to the list of states whose education systems are suffering financially. Like Louisiana, Alaska has benefitted from high oil prices; like their southern counterpart, Alaska’s governmental revenues have been slammed as price per barrel plummets. “[T]he oil collapse … has erased about two-thirds of the state budget”.
It’s hitting higher ed:
The University of Alaska has said it will reorganize its campuses and may have to cut more than 8 percent of the staff, but professors are already heading for the exits…
“At every one of our campuses, something is likely to go away,” said James R. Johnsen, the president of the University of Alaska…
“We’re losing faculty. They’re getting poached,” said Brian M. Barnes, a professor and the director of the Institute of Arctic Biology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, where 10 of the 45 faculty members in the department have already left.
And the crisis is also damaging K-12:
The state’s largest public school district, here in Anchorage, is cutting 49 teaching positions and increasing class sizes.
We might see a glimpse of national politics to come in what some Alaskan legislators are recommending in response. No, not a tax increase:
One lawmaker proposed closing dozens of the smallest rural schools. Others have said the university should retreat from its expensive research function and become more like a community college system, focused on teaching. A proposal to cut back on subsidies for high-speed Internet in rural areas sent another shiver through the education system, since about 90 percent of University of Alaska students take at least one course remotely.
One echoed the rising call for colleges and universities to not be Harvard – i.e., to focus more narrowly:
“You just can’t do everything, and that, in my opinion, is what they have tried to do,” said Tammie Wilson, a Republican who chairs the subcommittee in the Alaska House of Representatives that oversees the University of Alaska’s budget. “They can’t keep doing business the way they have.”
Does that sound like a hint at academic cuts to some? The University of Alaska’s president agrees, and is ready to roll:
Dr. Johnsen, the university president, said he completely agreed with that position and has a plan that would consolidate strengths — and notably reduce administrative overhead — at the school’s three main accredited campuses, in Fairbanks, Anchorage and Juneau.
Am I reading too much into this? Is Bryan being too Gothic? I don’t think so:
The inevitable reality for now, Dr. Johnsen said, is that there will be blood.
“We’ve got to bring out the sharp knives,” he said.
That’s a university president, ladies and gentlemen, not an outside observer with attitude.
(thanks to Chris Lott for the link, and why haven’t you been scrupulously following his work all this time? photo is mine)
Others have said the university should retreat from its expensive research function and become more like a community college system, focused on teaching.
Interesting echoes of Michael Crow’s argument at ELI 2016 that the fundamental mission of public colleges is citizen and workforce development. Is there really a shift towards more open discussion of the mission of public education, or am I cherry-picking the evidence? (I would argue that merely making jokes about Art History majors and using the word “employable” is not an articulate argument about mission…)
I’m not seeing much of a discussion.
The bias of public conversations about higher ed turns towards several R1s and the occasional LAC, especially at the national level.