OPINION: UAA creates opportunity for Alaska students — and the data shows it

Across the Lower 48, universities are immersed in questions over cost, campus discourse and politics. In Alaska, we have a different story to tell. The University of Alaska Anchorage provides high-quality, affordable education for Alaskans. Our approach creates pathways to life-changing experiences and careers. At a time when our state needs solutions, UAA is focused on delivering education that will benefit our students and our state for generations.

UAA creates opportunity through education. Through a wide range of academic programs, UAA opens doors and empowers students to shape their future. Our university combines the educational offerings of a traditional university, community college and technical school under one institutional roof. We offer high-powered baccalaureate and graduate degrees. UAA’s applied research mission trains students while advancing solutions to issues facing our state in areas such as engineering, business, science and health. UAA is also Alaska’s largest workforce provider. We are proud to be a “dual-mission” university, blending traditional degree programs and research with career and technical education programs. It’s an all-of-the-above approach that benefits our students and our state.

Our dual mission allows us to focus on creating pathways for students through high-quality educational programs that are affordable and flexible. Unbound by the limits of traditional four-year degree programs, we provide students with choices to create an educational path that makes sense for them.

At UAA, students can take the traditional university path and pursue a four-year degree or quickly connect with a new career through training in a certificate or associate degree program. These credits and certificates stack together cumulatively, allowing students to build expertise and credentials on a schedule that fits their lives, budget and personal aspirations. When the time is right, the credits they have earned toward certificates, associate degrees and related training can be applied toward further baccalaureate and graduate-level degrees.

We see examples of this every day. For instance, say a member of our military stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson seeks new opportunities to advance their career. UAA meets them where they are, guiding them into the right degree program with flexible schedules that allow them to balance work and education. This person can rely on those same credits to earn a more advanced degree. Similarly, students starting their journey working as a welder or bookkeeper can utilize their credits as a foundation for future credentials or degrees.

At UAA, we know creating opportunities for students requires more than flexible academic programs. Our university makes education affordable. UAA’s tuition rate has remained the same for three years and will remain the same next year. With everything we do, UAA works to drop barriers and help students access life-changing educational and employment opportunities.

We are already seeing the success of this approach. UAA’s total enrollment is up more than 5% since last fall, bucking national decline trends. UAA’s first-year class has grown four semesters in a row. The excitement reaches outside Alaska as well. At UAA, we filled our residence halls, offering in-state tuition rates to full-time students coming north who will live in student housing and take full course loads. By growing UAA, we are growing our state and community.


UAA is proud to offer students access to high-quality, affordable education that opens pathways to meaningful lives and careers. We help each student succeed by meeting them where they are in their educational journey. This focus on our students’ journey, their community and their impact in Alaska is key. We are confident this student-centered approach will help address some of the most significant issues facing universities today and inspire more students to look north to the future.

Sean Parnell is chancellor of the University of Alaska Anchorage and served as governor of Alaska from 2009-2014.

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