I read Pat Pitney’s commentary the other day regarding the University of Alaska system and what a great deal it was for Alaskans. It was a great spin piece with numerous omissions and some bending of the facts.
An average college experience should take four years. However, only 14% of UA students graduated in that timeframe. Of those who started, 27% took six years and 30% took eight years to complete their journey. Using the base year 2015, 70% of the students that started as freshmen never finished. The UA system has always had a problem with its retention rate, partially due to students being ill-prepared for college.
The problems within the UA system are multiple, including a large number of adjunct faculty. I understand that it is difficult to recruit qualified faculty members from outside, but the fact remains that there is a disproportionate number of adjuncts versus fulltime faculty members.
In a report published by the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System compared the University of Alaska Anchorage to 19 colleges/ universities of similar stature. They found that the UA system graduated fewer students with master’s and bachelor’s degrees. The UA system, however, did award more associate degrees.
The report also corroborates the dropout rate of about 30% with a transfer- out rate of 16%. Over the past couple of years, as the UA system reported in 2022, student falloff continues to drop annually — they may get them in the door, but they continue to leave, drop out or transfer elsewhere.
I acknowledge that the system has taken some significant setbacks between the budget cuts — some of which Pitney oversaw while working for the state — and the pandemic. However, the empirical evidence on retention and graduation has not drastically changed in the last 25 years.
The biggest problem with the UA system is the disproportionate expenditures of funds. The system has always been administratively top-heavy, which may account for some problems but not all. It is all complex, worrying, and less sunny than Pitney noted. Without accountability and a deep dive into what is going on behind the curtain, the problems will continue.
— Red Bradley
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