New University of Alaska President James Johnsen’s visit to Kenai Peninsula College campuses this week reaffirmed something that’s long been a priority on the peninsula: educational opportunity is crucial for strong, thriving communities.
During his visit, Johnsen related the story of the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ founding. Judge James Wickersham, with his eye on statehood for Alaska and his belief that a university was needed to help attain that goal, set the cornerstone for the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines in 1915.
Here on the Kenai Peninsula, the vision of an institute of higher learning as a cornerstone of the community is embodied in Kenai Peninsula College, which recently celebrated its 50th anniversary. That community continues to support education in general and the college in particular, with local funding for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District a priority year in and year out, and a portion of the property tax collected by the borough dedicated to the college. The majority of those funds go to support KPC’s JumpStart program, which allows high school juniors and seniors to take college classes at a reduced rate.
As with every other state-funded organization, the UA system is facing uncertainty over the next few years. Johnsen has requested a modest increase in funding from the Legislature, while acknowledging that the university administration is developing contingency plans to address a potential budget gap.
Johnsen’s vision for the UA system includes building on each institution’s strengths, and seeing those strengths utilized in solving Alaska’s problems and contributing to Alaska’s economy. His hope is that in addressing the current challenges, the university system will end up even stronger.
We share that hope with President Johnsen. We’ve seen the benefit locally, as programs at KPC such as process technology and nursing prepare students for high-demand careers.
We know that over the next few years, there will be pressure to cut education. We hope that as those decisions are made, those making them remember what Judge Wickersham knew 100 years ago — that a strong university is crucial to a thriving state.