The University of Alaska Board of Regents doesn’t have easy decisions ahead in trying to address a $24.8 million budget shortfall in the current fiscal year — and a gap ranging from $11.3 million to $36.3 million in the 2022 fiscal year.

The UA system has been working for months to address budget issues wrought by state budget cuts, sliding enrollment and, now, effects from the novel coronavirus pandemic.

As UA President Jim Johnson said: “We’ve exhausted the obvious things, so now we need to start looking at the larger structural options.”

The range of options that will be on the table when the regents meet Thursday and Friday will include an option to merge the University of Alaska Southeast with either the University of Alaska Anchorage or University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Ultimately, we don’t know enough to comment on how a merger might or might not be a budgetary advantage for the overall UA system.

We can speak, however, to the advantages of maintaining a robust UAS Ketchikan campus for southern Southeast Alaska.

UAS Ketchikan is a cost-effective provider of associate and bachelor degree programs at the campus and through Distance Education.

In addition, UAS Ketchikan continues to impress with its vocational/technical courses that teach skills useful in locally in-demand fields such as maritime transportation, welding, and health services. UAS Ketchikan’s interest in providing education to meet local needs has been a hallmark of the Ketchikan campus.

This commitment has helped local students and those who learn from a distance — currently about 600 students total. The skills they learn are put to use in the local economy and beyond.

The benefit of having a campus itself available in Ketchikan is tremendous. Local students can study in their home community, and the 35-plus jobs related to the Ketchikan campus provide a local economic assist.

We’re certain that UAS Ketchikan’s positive attributes for this community are mirrored at the other UAS campuses in Juneau and Sitka

Our hope is that the decisions made by the UA regents keep these UAS community assets in place and continuing to provide educational and economic opportunities. A full accounting of the benefits resulting from UAS in general and UAS Ketchikan in particular would weigh heavily in their favor.