Karen Carey, chancellor of the University of Alaska Southeast (courtesy)

Karen Carey, chancellor of the University of Alaska Southeast (courtesy)

Alaska Voices: Making higher education accessible to all Alaskans

While each of our universities has its own identity and specialty, our strength comes from our shared vision for the future of higher education in Alaska.

• By Bruce Schultz, Dan White and Karen Carey

The University of Alaska system is home to three distinct and independent universities working in tandem to provide the best outcomes for higher education in the state. This is all to the benefit of Alaskans — our students, our future workforce, employers, and our communities at large. We’re looking to the future with a cohesive vision to offer solutions to the issues Alaska faces today, and to create an accessible path to higher education for any student.

While each of our universities has its own identity and specialty, our strength comes from our shared vision for the future of higher education in Alaska.

As we adjusted to college during the COVID-19 pandemic, each university harnessed its expertise and area of focus to help support the issues our state faced. In some instances, that work involved collaboration across universities as researchers and students from UAA and UAF joined state public health efforts to help identify new, more contagious variants in Alaska, sequencing the virus’ genes — a process critical to keeping the virus under control. Others who were already studying coronaviruses shifted their focus to COVID-19 research in the past year.

Amidst the pandemic, our academic programs have continued to reinforce Alaska’s industries. UAS and UAF now also offer a joint fisheries program, which graduated its first student last spring. The fisheries program offers hands-on learning, producing qualified personnel to support this in-demand sector, which is so important to Alaska’s economy.

As we seek to create a college-going culture in Alaska, we know teachers educated within the University of Alaska system are critical to our future. Alaska school districts want to hire teachers trained in Alaska because they are more likely to stay in-state, and their coursework covers topics unique to Alaska.

Working collaboratively allows us to provide greater accessibility and flexibility to accommodate teacher training, and we’re working hard to attract students into the teaching profession with programs that begin as early as middle school.

We’re helping to pave the way for all students seeking higher education to reach their goal, including students who may not traditionally see themselves in a university environment. While we offer many different four-year degree programs, as well as master’s and doctoral programs, we also understand that for some students, it’s an associate degree or a certificate that will help them enter the workforce in their chosen field. We serve all of these students and are responsive to their educational goals.

The university system is also an environment rich with opportunities for research, discovery, innovation and outreach. Opportunities to explore and solve tomorrow’s challenges today await students at all three universities at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. Research across the UA system contributes to economic development by creating new businesses or new ways of doing business for Alaska’s companies.

Under University of Alaska Interim President Pat Pitney’s leadership, we are committed to moving the University of Alaska system into the future. The students who progress through our universities will be the future leaders of our state. We know that when Alaskans go Outside for college, they are much less likely to return — this is one of the most important reasons to continue investing in our university system. Nearly 90% of residents agree or strongly agree that Alaska businesses benefit from a workforce trained by the University of Alaska.

We are energized by the unity of leadership across the system and look forward to welcoming UAA’s new permanent chancellor to the team. We are buoyed by the positive momentum created by our faculty, staff and students’ good work. Our researchers’ groundbreaking discoveries are solving some of the state’s most pressing issues. We continue to strengthen our effort to become the universities of choice for Alaska’s students. Our alumni are supportive, engaged and our biggest advocates. Together, they continue to share personal stories of the university’s impact on their lives with friends, neighbors and colleagues.

With the upcoming public launch of the university system’s philanthropic campaign, we look forward to working with our new colleague to write the next chapter in our universities’ history, one focused on leadership in higher education, research, innovation and economic development. Together, we continue building a positive future for Alaska for generations to come.

Bruce Schultz is the interim chancellor of the University of Alaska Anchorage. Dan White is the chancellor of the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Karen Carey is the chancellor of the University of Alaska Southeast.

Dan White, chancellor of the University of Alaska Fairbanks (courtesy)

Dan White, chancellor of the University of Alaska Fairbanks (courtesy)

Bruce Schultz, interim chancellor of the University of Alaska Anchorage (courtesy)

Bruce Schultz, interim chancellor of the University of Alaska Anchorage (courtesy)

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