The question of restructuring higher education in Alaska really comes down to one of two ideas. What form better serves the needs of the state? Proponents of the "new UA" argue for reducing programs and access while maintaining centralized control. A decentralized model would build on the unique character of our three universities and improve their supervision with local boards of trustees who will hold the chancellors to account because they actually know and understand the institution they are supervising.
An accredited university is one that has been recognized by a regional accrediting organization as meeting its institutional standards. Accredited institutions offer universally accepted degrees and programs. Only accredited institutions can offer students federal funding, i.e., Title IV federal financial aid and federally sponsored grant programs.
The Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU) is the accrediting organization for UAF, UAA, and UAS.
NWCCU provides accreditation for the whole of UAF, UAA, and UAS. However, many degree programs, such as engineering, nursing, or education, require specialty accreditation to ensure their graduates meet industry standards.
The President of the NWCCU stated in a letter to the Board of Regents on July 29, “If student success and achievement are demonstrably affected, it could potentially jeopardize the accreditation status of these institutions. Students attending such institutions then become ineligible for federal financial aid and grants that, combined with the loss of scholarships from the state of Alaska, could be the death-knell for the University of Alaska.”
Financial exigency is (not unlike declaring bankruptcy) a means for the university to respond to drastic declines in budgets which requires immediate and severe cuts. It allows administration to act without reference to collective bargaining agreements or other restrictions that would normally apply. As such, the declaration of financial exigency instantly transforms professors with tenure into at will employees who can be fired on sixty days notice. It allows for the suspension or elimination of degree programs without guarantees of “teach outs” for currently enrolled students.
The University of Alaska Statewide is the administrative entity which oversees the three separate universities, UAF, UAA, and UAS. It is purely administrative. It teaches no students and conducts no research.
In 1974 the Board of Regents authorized the branch of the University of Alaska based in Anchorage (known as UA,A) to seek separate accreditation. In 1975, the University of Alaska deeded its accreditation to the new University of Alaska Fairbanks. UAS achieved separate accreditation in 1987.
Chancellors Dan White of UAF, Cathy Sandeen of UAA, and Rick Caulfield of UAS serve as the chief executive officers of their universities and are responsible for the day to day operation as well as the long term health of their institutions. As such, they are intimately familiar not just with staff, faculty, and student needs but understand the communities where their universities are based and endeavor to meet their needs. However, under current Board of Regents policy only the President of the system is allowed to publicly speak on its behalf.
Consolidating the three separately accredited universities into a single accredited institution would require one university (probably UAF) to absorb the others (most likely centralizing most functions in Fairbanks).
A consortium model allows for cooperation between the three universities and coordination to deliver seamless instruction across the three campuses without sacrificing their individual identities, strengths, or reducing the services offered to local students. By empowering the chancellors of UAF, UAA, and UAS to coordinate their efforts much that is now centralized in Fairbanks at UA Statewide could be wound down.