Hometown U: As school begins, meet UAA's class of 2017

Hometown UAugust 24, 2013 

For UAA, the fall semester opens tomorrow, Aug. 26. Welcome, Freshman Seawolves -- all 1,408 of you.

Add transfers into the mix, and students new to UAA will top 2,300, for an expected semester start in Anchorage of about 15,000. Tie in UAA's outlying campuses -- in Mat-Su, Prince William Sound, Kenai and Kodiak -- and more than 18,000 students go back to class Monday.

(UAF and UAS, plus their outlying campuses, have smaller footprints -- almost 7,000 for Fairbanks and 2,500 for Southeast.)

All these enrollment numbers continue to shift through the add/drop deadlines in early September. Predictions call for a final enrollment of more than 20,000, about 1,000 more than last year.

In the meantime, students filter into one of six UAA colleges to try out their classes.

The biggest chunk, almost 9,000, lands in Arts & Sciences, home to disciplines from philosophy to dance to chemistry to math.

The next largest group, about 5,500, heads to the Community and Technical College, a legacy of UAA's strong community college roots. They find two-year associate degrees and all kinds of skill certifications, a popular path for nontraditional college students who flow into school when job advancement demands it, or as family, time and money allow.

The four other colleges enroll in the thousands. Health and Business & Public Policy each attracts well over 2,000, and Education and Engineering each tops 1,000.

It's a small army. No one approaching the U-Med District on Monday will miss the fact that campus is back in session.

So what do we know about this newest wave joining UAA? I spent an hour in Eric Pedersen's office, tucked within Enrollment Services on the south end of University Center, a shopping mall across from New Sagaya on Old Seward.

Can you remember when a pizza parlor drew hungry late-nighters to this same spot? The whiff of pepperoni is forever erased by wafting espresso odors and the steady hum of vending machines; ah, college.

This big place with wide hallways and high ceilings, called UAA One Stop, is where students register for classes, pay bills, get ID cards and check on financial aid. Behind the lobby, a warren of offices and cubicles houses the enrollment engine, led by Pedersen.

New to UAA since 2011, Pedersen spent 22 years working in private college admissions and financial aid after finishing a political science degree at Whitman College in Washington. Of his focused career, he smiles and says, "What's the old adage -- two years and out, or all in."

Dissecting the latest analysis from institutional research, he could tell me the top 10 high schools feeding into UAA; the average GPA for the incoming class; where out-of-staters are coming from; and which countries send their young.

"This fall's new students are overwhelmingly Alaskan," he said, "90 percent."

Still, UAA added international students from around the globe: 13 Russians, nine Canadians, eight Filipinos, seven South Koreans, and diminishing single digits from 18 other countries that include China, Pakistan, Thailand, Cuba, Mexico, Sudan, Cameroon and Australia, among others.

Forty states and two territories are represented, with California, Oregon and Washington the highest in double digits.

Women outnumber men, 59 percent to 41 percent.

Forty-two percent are students of color, with Alaska Natives, at 13 percent, the largest group of non-white students.

The top 10 feeder high schools are:

  • Dimond, 171
  • East, 155
  • Service, 152
  • South, 118
  • Bartlett, 109
  • Chugiak, 103
  • West, 99
  • Eagle River, 66
  • Colony, 31
  • Wasilla, 27

Mount Edgecumbe sent 21 and Lathrop in Fairbanks, 19. Seventy-eight Alaskans will enter with GEDs.

The average GPA for entering freshman is 3.04.

Transfer numbers tell the story of soldiers and airmen going to college while they serve. At 56, UAF offered the most transfers, but Community College of the Air Force, Central Texas College and U of Maryland's University College, all three offering classes on bases around the country, were well represented.

Monday, thousands will stream back to a campus under construction. Two new buildings are emerging along Providence Drive, the new sports center opening in 2014, and a new engineering building instead of a parking lot in front of the Student Union. One of the old community college buildings on the west side of campus, Beatrice McDonald Hall, is fenced and out of service as it gets upgraded and remodeled.

A denser campus, with parking lots and garages pushed to the perimeter and serviced by frequent shuttles and walkable, bikeable pathways, is all part of UAA's long-term look to its future.

Tomorrow, another chapter begins.


Kathleen McCoy is an electronic media specialist at UAA, where she highlights campus life through social and online media.

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