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University of Alaska Budget Cuts Could Severely Impact Native Communities

As drastic budget cuts loom over the University of Alaska system, Native students attending one of the system’s 16 campuses may soon face a tough decision: Staying in the state to maintain cultural activity or leaving to complete their college degrees.

On June 28, Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy vetoed $130 million in the university’s operating budget. In addition to a $5 million cut previously approved by the state legislature, this $135 million slash represents 41 percent of UA’s current state funding level of $327 million.

Following the announcement of the budget cuts, supporters of the university system were quick to come to its aid, particularly after Jim Johnsen, president of the University of Alaska system, emphasized how dire the impact would be. 

“Simply put, if not overridden, today’s veto will strike an institutional and reputational blow from which we may likely never recover,” Johnsen wrote in a letter to the university community on June 28. 

With a vote scheduled for Wednesday at 11:30am on whether to override the veto or not, advocates for the university have had minimal time to try to persuade members of the state’s Legislature to side in their favor.

In the meantime, some have proposed that Alaskan Native students within the university system would be hurt worst of all by the cuts. 

The University of Alaska system includes three universities and 16 campuses throughout the state, some of which are not accessible by land. In the fall of 2018, approximately 17 percent of the system’s 26,000 member student body were Alaskan Natives, according to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education

Many of these students attend the satellite campuses closest to their homes, allowing them to continue living on their tribal lands throughout their college careers. However, if the budget cuts proceed and these regional campuses close, students with limited financial means to leave the state would be left with nowhere else to go.

In addition to potential campus closures, programs in Alaska Native languages and cultures, some of the hallmarks of the University of Alaska system curriculum, could be cut as well, according to an article by NBC News

Some members of the university community, such as Sara Eliza Johnson, an assistant professor of English at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, have classified the cuts as “racist,” forcing many indigenous students to “choose between leaving tribal lands to receive a quality education outside the state and staying at home to participate in their cultural communities,” she told NBC

“The ripple effect will be devastating,” Johnson added. 

University of Alaska System’s State Funding Cut by 41 Percent

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