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Alaska’s students need a chance to get ahead academically without getting behind financially

  • Author: Herb Schroeder
    | Opinion
  • Updated: November 19, 2019
  • Published November 19, 2019

Cultural teacher Teresa Smith talks with Ethan Sundown, a sophomore from Bethel, about installing the keel on a model kayak he is building in Anchorage on Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2018. Sundown was taking part in a 5-week mathematics program at Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program at UAA. (Bob Hallinen / ADN)

With all the challenges Alaska faces around education performance and education funding, it is time for us to explore the possibility of expanding upon what works. For more than 20 years, the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program has been working to improve access to and quality of education while looking for opportunities to save students and the state money.

Now, with ANSEP, a student can go from eighth grade to earning a bachelor’s degree in six years. This dramatic improvement in academic outcomes saves families two years or more of college expenses and reduces time to a degree. In addition, university remediation and the associated costs for families and government are eliminated while reducing the social costs of failure.

The key lies in making learning fun with career visioning to provide students with the inspiration, guidance and opportunity they need to be excited about their futures. ANSEP designs hands-on experiences in a variety of careers for students as early as fifth grade. Through its longitudinal model, ANSEP guides them to the career paths they are excited about and provides the tools and support they need to fulfill their dreams. Students explore options, discover what excites them and get on a trajectory of success in their lives.

The program’s model is designed so students can earn college credit while still in high school with the ANSEP Acceleration Academy. Alongside peers who share their passion and motivation, students explore different science, technology, engineering, math and business careers.

There are full-time Acceleration Academies for students in Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. These full-time components give students access to advanced curriculum and opportunities for real-world, hands-on learning. Students earn college credits towards degrees in biological sciences, engineering, education, psychology, business management and many others. Even as high school freshmen, students immediately begin accumulating college credits while taking university classes from university faculty.

Full-time Acceleration Academy is currently only available in Southcentral, but students from across the state can take advantage of earning college credit at no cost by applying for Acceleration Academy Summer. During Acceleration Academy Summer, students spend five weeks on the University of Alaska Anchorage campus. Like those enrolled in the full-time component, Acceleration Academy Summer students explore careers, take university courses for dual high school and university credit and are placed on a path for success. Students can return summer after summer to accumulate as many college credits as possible before they head to university full time.

Acceleration Academy students are not only ahead of the curve academically but also financially and socially. They are earning lots of college credits at no cost, better understand the possibilities for their lives and become comfortable living away from home on a university campus. Applications for the 2020 summer component will open this month.

Herb Schroeder is the founder of ANSEP; he currently serves as its Vice Provost.

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