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Now is the time to invest in the university, not cut it

  • Author: Joey Sweet
    | Opinion
  • Updated: May 22
  • Published May 22

From left, Eva Johnson of Noorvik, Madison Newlin of Noorvik and Shameka Geter of Kotzebue take temperature measurements at a heat lamp placed inside one end of a hot box, and at a point on the other side of the box separated by layers of insulating materials, while studying energy efficiency in buildings on Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2016, at the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program Academy building at UAA.

The statistics about how significant the budget cuts to the University of Alaska have been in the past few years are repeated so frequently, they’ve become cliché at this point. We’ve lost well more than 1,000 employees. Enrollment has declined. Programs continue to be cut. This is the situation we find ourselves in.

In spite of this, the UA system has done everything it possibly can to weather the storm and come out stronger. I’m writing this in an effort to try to highlight to the public the initiatives the university has undertaken that people might not be aware of.

Alaska Middle College

The Alaska Middle College School, or AMCS, is a program that allows high school students to earn credits toward their university education while they are still attending high school. This saves money for both students and their parents, and allows them to get a better understanding of what college is like before they decide if it’s right for them. The AMCS is something I’m particularly proud of, considering the thicket of bureaucratic questions surrounding the presence of high school students on a university campus that had to be answered for it to come into existence.

Students learn how to attend college during their time in AMCS. College is so vastly different than high school that a lot of students end up having to take a term off after finding out the hard way that they weren’t as prepared for college as they thought they were. To prevent this, AMCS helps students learn about the reality of attending college by requiring students to read their syllabi and meet regularly with academic advisors. Brynn Morse will graduate from high school and college simultaneously this year, having earned a degree in math while still in high school.

Oh, and it’s free.

If the university can create a program this successful while undergoing unprecedented budget cuts, what could it accomplish in a better economic environment?

ANSEP

The Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program, or ANSEP, has been a shining star for the university for years. Recognizing the unique engineering needs of the state of Alaska, ANSEP seeks to fix two problems at once: educational disparity between rural and urban Alaska, and the need to increase science, technology, engineering and math education at-large. ANSEP has grown slowly but steadily since its founding 24 years ago. By 2020, ANSEP projects to have enrolled more than 4,000 students in its educational pipeline, ranging from middle school to Ph.D.-level studies. The program has trained hundreds of engineers throughout the state, generating high-paying jobs all across Alaska.

Like the AMCS, ANSEP allows students to earn college credit while still in high school. However, ANSEP offers programs for students well before they even reach high school. One such program is the STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) Career Exploration weeks, for middle school students. Each week is focused on a different career field under the STEM umbrella. This summer, ANSEP will have weeks dedicated to energy, geology, health and marine sciences, allowing middle school students the opportunity to explore their interests in several diverse fields.

Workforce Development

Often, students might not be able to attend college full time as a traditional student. Instead, they may be better served by taking a year or two to study a specific career field — auto/diesel tech, dental hygiene, construction management and many more are all offered at UAA.

Recently, the university unveiled the Career Coach website, which helps place students into fields they may be interested in. This site works with Alaska Career Information Service, or AKCIS, a similar program aimed at high school students, to help guide students toward the career that’s right for them. It does this by working as a search engine for jobs available throughout Alaska.

UAA recently announced the creation of a new program called the Aviation Degree and Pilot Employment Program, which will allow students the opportunity to work as a regional airline pilot concurrent to their studies. This, too, represents the way the university is pushing forward despite budgetary uncertainty. We continue to push the boundaries and expand educational opportunities, even with uncertainty all around us.

The Aviation Degree and Pilot Employment Program seeks to help fill a widespread pilot shortage present throughout the state and the nation. Similarly, the university created a program in Surgical Technology in the fall of 2018. Using information gathered by the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, the university worked to create this program specifically to fill a critical gap in the medical field. Among health care providers who hire surgical technologists, 93% reported difficulty in filling open positions. The university will play an important role in helping to close that gap.

The Senate Finance Subcommittee recommended that the UA system be appropriated $322 million this year, split between two increments (one for community campuses, and one for main academic units). This proposal represents great news for the university. We’ve been pushing forward relentlessly, even in the face of budget cuts. Now should be the time to capitalize on the gains the university has made, not undo the progress we’ve fought so hard for.

Joey Sweet is the current Student Regent on the University of Alaska Board of Regents, to which he was appointed in 2017. He lives in Anchorage and is pursuing a master’s degree in Public Administration.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

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