OPINION: From stability to growth: UA is empowering Alaska

Alaskans should be proud of their public universities. After a period of challenges, the University of Alaska System has turned a corner. UA awarded more than 3,000 degrees this year, and our enrollment is poised to grow, as is our impact around the state. The fiscal year 2024 budget approved by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Dunleavy at the end of June represents the continuation of a solid fiscal foundation we need to keep educating Alaska’s future workforce and supporting innovation.

UA is building on that stable foundation, and empowering Alaska for years to come.

Last year, we saw increases in both first-time freshman and UA Scholars attending the University of Alaska Anchorage, the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and the University of Alaska Southeast. I’m looking forward to welcoming an even larger class to UA this fall: early numbers show incoming freshmen and Scholars’ enrollment on track for a large increase, and overall enrollment trending toward at least 2% growth.

Students are responding to the increased stability and quality program offerings across our system — and that’s exciting to see. Our renewed investment and strong outcomes in high-quality academic, research, and workforce development programs demonstrate the value of a UA certificate or degree.

That value is even clearer today. Alaska is facing acute shortages in key sectors of our communities — teaching, health care, CPAs, and construction to name a few. Department of Labor data shows that Alaska’s working-age population — people between the ages of 15-64 — is falling. There are more than 25,000 fewer working-age Alaskans here today than there were 10 years ago.

Our universities are a big part of the solution to meet those workforce needs. UAA, UAF, UAS, and their community campuses educate more than 90% of all students attending higher education in Alaska. Our offerings stretch from short-term training and certificates to baccalaureate and post-graduate degrees, giving our diverse student body choices and flexibility in how to achieve their goals.

We’ve awarded more than 44,000 degrees and certificates in the last 10 years — 72% of them in Alaska’s highest-demand employment fields. And, 80% of our graduates are working here in Alaska within a year after graduating. From aviation mechanics to health care, hospitality to oil and gas, UA is partnering with employers to meet Alaska’s workforce needs. And because of our diversity of programs, flexibility, and affordability, we can — literally and figuratively — meet students where they are.


In addition to empowering the workforce, UA research is instrumental for Alaska communities and industries. UA’s researchers are recognized globally for their Arctic expertise and are helping businesses plan, adapt, and compete for new opportunities in a changing climate.

Our research strength is key to diversifying Alaska’s economy. Last year, we reached our highest-ever level of externally funded research, bringing $182 million of economic activity to the state; we are about to eclipse that record again this year. This funding is competitive, it comes to Alaska because of the quality faculty, and the focus and infrastructure built over decades.

The Alaska Center for Energy and Power at UAF has been partnering with industry to lower energy costs and develop a new energy future for our state for years. And UAF’s ongoing research in heavy oil recovery, drone testing and development, and uses of satellite data are helping advance other industry partners. At UAS, our faculty have explored the impact of melting glacial run-off on salmon runs, and are helping grow and develop sustainable mariculture and aquaculture throughout Southeast Alaska. And the incredible folks at UAA’s Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER) continue to help quantify the costs of mitigation and adaptation to a changing climate.

The future of our state is directly tied to having access to high-quality, affordable public universities — serving students not just in our biggest cities, but in our smallest communities as well. The UA System is giving Alaskans the opportunity to build their lives right here in Alaska, and our excellence attracts many from Outside who will choose to make this place their home. As we execute our educational mission, we’re building solid futures for the next generation of Alaska workers and leaders.

The University of Alaska System can help make a bright future a reality. And that’s why continued support and investment in our universities — and the breadth of programs they offer — is more critical now than ever. On behalf of UAA, UAF, and UAS, we’re grateful for the fiscal stability, confidence, and trust; we will continue to build on the successes of the past year, and remain focused on empowering Alaska.

Pat Pitney is the president of the University of Alaska System.

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