OPINION: How Alaska’s university helps develop the state’s workforce pipeline

In the vast and varied landscape of Alaska, the University of Alaska (UA) system is a cornerstone of progress and opportunity. Our three universities and 13 community campuses make UA more than just an educational institution; we are a vital engine empowering the state’s workforce development and economic growth. From vocational training to globally recognized Ph.D. programs, everything we do is tailored to meet Alaska’s diverse economic needs.

The data proves it. Over the last 10 years, we’ve awarded around 43,000 degrees and certificates — 70% of which qualify graduates for Alaska’s highest-demand employment fields like education, accounting, oil and gas, and tourism. Broad program offerings and degree pathways at every campus give students robust opportunities for success, both in college and in Alaska’s workforce.

National statistics show that 80% of graduates settle within 100 miles of where they go to college. In Alaska, our Department of Labor statistics show that 75% of students who go out of state don’t return or stay in Alaska long-term, feeding our outmigration problem.

But UA is a unique contributor to building Alaska’s workforce: our programs are helping build the pipeline of future Alaska workers. Nearly 9 in 10 graduates from our universities are working here in Alaska within a year after graduation. Across the state, UA’s universities and community campuses provide:

• 90% of community college and vocational/technical education in Alaska. That’s programs like the University of Alaska Southeast’s Maritime Education Center, which provides hands-on training for shipbuilding and repair jobs. Faculty and staff work with the Alaska Marine Highway System and U.S. Coast Guard to tailor courses to industry needs and place students in internships that lead to seafaring careers.

• 95% of undergraduate education such as education, accounting, finance, biology, engineering and fisheries. Skyler Kern is an alum of the University of Alaska Anchorage and the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program. He earned his undergrad in Mechanical Engineering from UAA, and this fall after getting his doctorate at the University of Colorado Boulder, he joined UAA as an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering, now helping build the next generation of Alaska students and leaders.

• 98% of graduate education in Alaska. Minnie Naylor grew up in Kotzebue; with guidance from her elders and community, she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in rural development from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Since then, she has worked for UAF, spending time as a student advisor and most recently promoted to Director of the Chukchi Campus — which is in her hometown of Kotzebue. It’s a true “full-circle” moment. We are excited to see how she strengthens connections to youth in the region to the opportunities throughout the system.


• 99% of academic research and development in the state. UA received $235 million as a system in research revenue last year — research relevant for Alaskans. UAF is our leader in research dollars, with over $200 million received last fiscal year. These are competitive federal dollars — if we didn’t get them, they’d be going to some other university or state. Our world-class faculty and programs are clearly being recognized.

And those numbers underscore our role in meeting Alaskans wherever they are on their educational journey, offering pathways to success that are as diverse as the state’s population. From high school dual enrollment programs to advanced degrees, UA’s comprehensive offerings ensure that every Alaskan has the opportunity to pursue their aspirations and contribute to the state’s prosperity.

As the president of UA, I am privileged to witness the transformative power of education daily. But my connection to our work is also deeply personal. As a mother and grandmother, I have seen firsthand the impact of our universities on my family, with all three of my children benefiting from the education they received here. This personal connection fuels my passion for ensuring that UA continues to offer opportunities for all Alaskans, supporting not just individual success but the holistic well-being of our state.

The University of Alaska is more than just another university system. We are a vital partner in building Alaska’s future. Through our comprehensive educational programs, research initiatives, and community engagement, UA is empowering individuals, enriching communities, and driving economic development. As we look to the future, I invite all Alaskans to join us in supporting and celebrating our universities as beacons of hope, opportunity, and prosperity for our state.

Together, we’re building and investing in a future where every Alaskan has the opportunity to thrive.

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

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