Amid cuts, UAS moves focus to enrollment

At the University of Alaska Southeast, it’s the same tune heard around the state — an uncomfortably tight budget countered by expanding program needs. UAS Chancellor Rick Caulfield, however, remains optimistic.

During Thursday’s Juneau Chamber of Commerce luncheon, Caulfield presented a summary of where UAS is, where it’s going and what it all means for Juneau’s economy.

As an employer alone, Caulfield said UAS pours $27 million into Juneau via its 322 employees. Then there are the 50-plus construction contracts that keep local businesses busy. However, those are short-term economic impacts. The real contribution comes from educating students who will take over for an aging population.

“We wonder about what kind of opportunities are there for our kids and our grandkids looking forward, and it’s even tougher as we think about the budget challenges that the state of Alaska is facing right now,” Caulfield said. “But as I look in the mirror in the morning, I’m reminded that I’m part of the graying workforce.”

To prepare that workforce, new opportunities for students are in the works. Although UAS already has a popular marine biology degree program, Caulfield said the university is working to mimic what the University of Alaska Fairbanks has in place by adding a fishery component to the degree. The UAS faculty senate is still in the process of reviewing the change, but Caulfield said he is optimistic it will soon pass and that the addition of this component could add up to 20 students.

Other ways Caulfield said student enrollment has expanded includes the “Come Home to Alaska” initiative, started at the beginning of the 2014 school year. The program guarantees out-of-state students an in-state tuition fee if they have a parent, grandparent or great-grandparent who receives a Permanent Fund Dividend.

Eric Lingle, associate director of admission for UAS, said the trial program, now in its second year, has attracted 39 students to date. Speaking with one senior from North Carolina, Lingle said the discount, which could save a student $466 per credit, is the incentive that could tip the scales in UAS’ favor.

A lot of growth is in UAS’ future, Caulfield said, but there have been cuts along the way to make ends meet.

Degree programs that been cut include the masters of business administration, the pre-engineering and early childhood degree programs. The cuts were made with the assurance that students could still complete degrees online within the University of Alaska program at a sister school. Other cuts have included eliminating 21 jobs and closing the UAS bookstore, putting all sales online.

The opportunity, Caulfield said, still exists for students, traditional and non-traditional, to get a degree from UAS and reverse a trend that puts Alaska at the low end of the spectrum for college-going citizens. There’s still time to turn things around, Caulfield explained, despite the budget crisis hurting the sate.

“We’re putting some programs down, never a happy thing, but the world is changing and we have to change with it,” he said.

• Contact reporter Paula Ann Solis at 523-2272 or at paula.solis@juneauempire.com.

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