Uncertainty over University of Alaska's budget and programs is taking a toll on some high school students expressing concern that higher education in Alaska may no longer be their best option.

The University of Alaska Anchorage is working to encourage Alaska high school students to stay put.  

UAA Chancellor Cathy Sandeen gave the keynote address Sunday at the fall conference of the Alaska Association of Student Governments, a gathering of high school student government leaders from across Alaska. Delegates from about 150 schools were given a platform to voice concerns on issues at the local, state and national levels.

“We know that if students go to college or university out of the state, they’re more likely to stay out of the state. We need to retain our best and our brightest,” Sandeen said.

Her goal was to highlight in-state opportunities available at Alaska campuses.

“Our biggest challenge is getting a positive message out there because the news over the summer and early fall has been one negative headline after another, but we are still here,” she said.

Despite this fall's incoming freshman class being one of the largest ever at UAA, numbers from the university show overall enrollment dropped by a sharp 12.5% or 1,480 students. Across UAA’s five campuses, student headcount is down nearly 11% — just shy of 1,700 students, according to Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Bruce Shultz.

“We know that nearly 500 of those students are related to moving College of Education initial licensure programs to UAF and UAS. We are confident in reporting there are approximately 1,200 fewer students, (down 7.8%) this semester than last fall, which was very much unexpected considering how strong our early applications for admission were,” Kirstin Olmstead, UAA Public Relations and Marketing Manager, wrote in an email.

Student government leaders say their classmates have concerns about accreditation issues at UAA, state funding cuts and scholarship opportunities.

“There's no guarantee that that funding is going to be there in a year from now when you're accepted,” said North Pole High School student body president Jake Wade.

Bailee Petersen, Palmer High School student body president, says students consider affordability when deciding where to get their education.

“A big factor in students applying to the Alaska schools — the Alaska universities — is that it’s a more financially realistic option,” she said. “So once that goes away it deters students from applying to the UA system.”

Sandeen says a slight tuition increase is in the works for the next academic year and that she's against a more drastic hike.

“What we need to do is find some kind of balance,” she said. “Yes, we need to be efficient, yes we need to be good stewards of state resources, but on the other hand to cut us so dramatically so quickly in one year doesn't give us time to make up the revenue from other places.”

Several students at the conference said UAA is on their radar but ultimately, they'd like to leave the 49th State for college. It’s a trend Sandeen is hoping to change as UAA navigates its own future.  

“A student can get a world-class experience right here in Alaska,” she said.


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