On the face of it, additional funding for the University of Alaska now in the works looks like a good compromise.
The university asked for an $18.4 million increase -- its original request of $17 million plus $1.4 million for pay hikes for nonunion employees. That was in line with a three-year plan offered by UA President Mark Hamilton calling for increases of about $17 million per year. With that, the university could both maintain services and improve programs in work force development, education, nursing, information technology and computer science.
But as matters stood Thursday evening, the best the Legislature likely will do this year is a total increase of $12.4 million, with $3 million of that in a separate Senate bill for vocational and technical education.
That's good, but not good enough.
Bob Miller, director of public affairs for the university, pointed out that the Legislature has begun to see the light on the need to fund the university. Certainly last year's increase of $15.8 million and this year's likely increase reflect a more favorable view of higher education.
But the Legislature as a whole, despite the consistent support of the Democratic minority and last year's conversion of House Finance Committee co-chair and Republican majority stalwart Eldon Mulder, has yet to grasp fully the reality of the university as an investment.
Investment has been the message of UA President Mark Hamilton. He's campaigned on the themes of public-private partnerships, accountability and a university strong enough to retain some of Alaska's ablest students and attract others from the Lower 48 and abroad.
''If you make this university strong, this university will make you rich,'' Mr. Hamilton has said.
He's right. And that richness covers more than money. A strong university will provide greater knowledge, choices and opportunities for all Alaskans.
That opportunity won't come on the cheap, and to quibble over $6 million at a time when the Legislature anticipates tapping the Constitutional Budget Reserve for $622 million is foolish penny-pinching. The Legislature should make the full investment in the university -- which is one way of saying it should make a full investment in Alaska's future.
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