University of Alaska system boasts overall enrollment growth after financial challenges

Student enrollment is up at University of Alaska campuses overall, chancellors told the board of regents at their meeting Thursday.

The news of overall 4.7% growth systemwide comes after a five-year downward trend in student enrollment. College enrollment has declined nationally over the last decade, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Regent Karen Purdue said the growth reflects well on President Pat Pitney’s leadership and said there’s still work to do.

“These growths are from a valley,” she said. “What’s reflected here is the confidence of the public in the ability of the university that we didn’t have over the past several years.”

The state cut funding to the university by $55 million from 2019 to 2022. The state spending rose by $47 million in the budget year that ended in June.

Less than half of college bound Alaska high school students attended college in the state in the last two years, according to a study by the Alaska Commission of Postsecondary Education.

University of Alaska Fairbanks Chancellor Daniel White said the budget cuts reduced Alaskans’ confidence in UA education.


“It used to be that most Alaskans went to one of the universities in Alaska. When big budget cuts happened, there was a shift,” he said. “More than half are going out and it used to be more than half stayed in.”

But UA chancellors boasted of full student residences and bustling campuses in the first days of the new school year. They urged the regents to invest in continued growth by modernizing campuses and empowering educators.

University of Alaska Anchorage Chancellor and former Gov. Sean Parnell asked the regents to hold tuition flat to encourage enrollment because an increasing number of students are arriving at the university that will not have help from their families to pay tuition.

“UAA is more accessible and affordable, but the financial needs of our students are also greater,” he said.

He said financial incentives worked when the university wanted to fill its student housing, so affordability could make enrollment more popular, too.

Originally published by the Alaska Beacon, an independent, nonpartisan news organization that covers Alaska state government.