Saturday, May 18, 2013
University of Alaska Considering an Operations Overhaul
The University of Alaska is taking early steps toward an overhaul of its operations, an effort organizers say is designed to boost the success of UA students in the years ahead.
FAIRBANKS - The University of Alaska is taking early steps toward an overhaul of its operations, an effort organizers say is designed to boost the success of UA students in the years ahead.
UA President Pat Gamble said the endeavor shouldn’t be mistaken for a minor tweak. He said the changes could ultimately affect the UA admissions process, where students attend class, and how they’re advised once they arrive on campus.
“It’s not philosophical, it’s not tinkering,” Gamble said. “It’s a no-kidding course adjustment.”
Gamble said a key goal of the planned year-long realignment is a simple one — giving students a better chance at graduating.
Among full-time freshmen seeking a four-year degree — about 40 percent of the UA student body — the graduation and retention rates at UA are low. Only 28 percent of students were able to get their degree within six years, based on the most recent statistics. The national average is about 55 percent, although that includes institutions with more selective admissions policies than the UA system.
Gamble praised the efforts of his predecessor, Mark Hamilton, whose 12-year tenure was focused on boosting UA as a destination for Alaska high school students. The statistics show those efforts were successful — enrollment is up 13 percent during the past decade, and about 90 percent of UA students are from Alaska.
Gamble, who took over as UA president in June 2010, said his goal will be to build an environment where those students have a better chance of graduating.
“It was about inputs for 10 years,” he said. “Now it’s outputs.”
Gamble said UA should do a better job of getting those students to their destination and that a more business-like, outcome-based approach to providing an education is a worthy goal.
“We want to give them the best value for the money they spend,” he said.
The details behind the overhaul are still hazy. UA officials will hold about 40 “listening sessions” this year to gather input from faculty, staff, community leaders and students to help identify areas for improvement and shape the direction of the project.
Gamble has assigned Paula Donson, the UA associate vice president of academic affairs and strategic direction, to lead the effort.
“Any good organization needs to evaluate itself to make sure it’s accomplishing (its goals),” Donson said. “The world is changing, and the university needs to change with it.”
Gamble said weeding out bureaucracy that creates obstacles within the UA system will probably be part of the process. He also said more outreach to high school seniors and students in their first two years at UA are considered key to boosting retention.
Reshaping the operations at UA has been a theme for Gamble, a former Alaska Railroad president and Air Force general. Soon after taking the top job at UA, he commissioned a report to look critically at the university and areas where it could be improved.
That report, which questioned the need for duplication at UA campuses and a heavily centralized administration, among other items, will be one of many factors considered in the process ahead, Gamble said.
Donson said a target of May 2012 has been set to present a restructuring plan to the UA Board of Regents.
Contact staff writer Jeff Richardson at 459-7518.