New Legislation Would Provide Greater Fiscal Stability for the University of Alaska

U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski, Dan Sullivan, and Rep. Don Young, all R-Alaska, last week introduced new legislation, the University of Alaska Fiscal Foundation Act, in both the Senate and House of Representatives. The legislation is supported by Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy, also R-Alaska, and would resolve the University of Alaska’s (University) unfulfilled land grant to help it generate revenues that support its students and operations. 

The University currently has one of the smallest land endowments—just 110,000 acres—of any applicable institution of higher education. While those lands help the University generate revenues, a complicated history of federal laws and an adverse court ruling have prevented the State of Alaska (State) from being able to directly convey additional lands to the University from its own entitlement—despite that being Congress’ clear intent for several decades.

The delegation’s new bill addresses these issues by allowing the University and State to jointly identify up to 500,000 acres for potential conveyance, which the Department of the Interior (DOI) would survey. The State and University would then work with DOI to transfer up to 360,000 acres in total to the University. Any land ultimately transferred to the University would be deducted from Alaska’s outstanding statehood lands entitlement, which still totals several million acres.

“As we navigate these unprecedented times, the University of Alaska will continue to play a critical role by providing quality educations to young Alaskans and future generations,” said Senator Murkowski, Chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “This legislation will fulfill the University of Alaska’s land grant for the benefit of its students and help provide a permanent foundation to support higher education in Alaska. This is key to a healthy and vibrant future for our state, and I thank the Governor and the University for working with us to develop this consensus approach.”

“The University of Alaska, like so many other institutions in Alaska, has been hit hard by the pandemic, facing significant fiscal challenges as a result.” said Senator Sullivan. “Finally fulfilling the University’s promise as a land grant university with sufficient lands to achieve its mission will better enable the institution to support itself and continue to educate our state’s next generation of leaders. I’m glad to join Senator Murkowski and Congressman Young in introducing this legislation to break through decades-long hurdles that have prevented the University from accessing the land it needs to secure a strong future.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has affected nearly every area of our daily lives, including our economy,” said Congressman Young. “One critical way we can help Alaskans bounce back from these unprecedented times is to help our universities in their goal of providing high-quality education to the young people of our great state. The University of Alaska Fiscal Foundation Act is an important piece of legislation to provide this essential institution with the resources necessary to support our students. Our state is well-known for being able to balance resource development with environmental protection, and the University of Alaska should be empowered to responsibly utilize their lands for the benefit of students. I am grateful for the support of both the Alaska Delegation and Governor Dunleavy, and will continue working to secure a bright future for future generations of Alaskans.”

“I am committed to getting Alaskans back to work, reviving our state’s diverse economy, and enhancing and developing our abundant natural resources. The fulfilment of the University of Alaska's long-standing land grants is a significant step towards meeting these commitments,” said Alaska Governor Dunleavy. “I thank Senator Murkowski, as well as her Alaskan colleagues, Senator Sullivan and Congressman Young, for the introduction of the University of Alaska Fiscal Foundation Act. This vital piece of legislation would provide for the continuation of higher education by placing productive lands into active management to generate recurring revenues, supporting the University of Alaska. This is exactly what Congress intended in the creation of land grant universities and it is time this intent is realized.”

“This is a major step forward and a very important day for the university toward our long-term financial security. The entire university community is grateful to our congressional delegation and for the support of the Governor,” said University of Alaska Interim President Pat Pitney. “While there’s more work to be done in the months ahead, this legislation signals that our status as a ‘land grant university without the land’ is finally coming to an end. We look forward to the opportunity that the land will provide to our long term stable funding to enhance our students’ educational experience and for cutting edge research.”

The text of the legislation as introduced in both the Senate and House is available here. To read more about the University’s never-fulfilled land grant, please click here.