While headlines about the University of Alaska of late have focused on budget cuts and vetoes, as University of Alaska Southeast Chancellor I want to share some positive news. The accreditation of UAS — your hometown university — has been reaffirmed fully by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU).
This accreditation, based on nationally-recognized standards, allows UAS to grant degrees, award credit and provide financial aid. Reaffirmation of UAS accreditation is a big deal. In this time of uncertainty and budget challenges, it confirms that UAS is providing quality degrees, programs and services to its students and the communities we serve.
A central focus of the accreditation process is fulfillment of the university’s mission. At UAS, our mission focuses on student learning and success. It includes providing students with special opportunities for research and for internships experiences in the workplace. It involves partnerships with business, industry and government. It involves statewide leadership in high need areas like teacher preparation. And, it includes offering degrees and programs that build on the cultures and environment of Southeast Alaska.
The nine-member accreditation team that visited UAS in April commended UAS for its achievements in just these areas. It lauded UAS faculty and staff for commitment to student success and retention. It noted success in integrating our three campuses — Juneau, Ketchikan and Sitka — into one regional university with shared vision and values. The team observed that the level of collaboration in this regional approach is “remarkable.” It spotlighted the distinctive experiential learning opportunities that UAS offers its students, such as working as a legislative intern, engaging in research on glaciers or in the marine environment, student teaching in rural Alaska, or gaining on-the-job training at a nearby mine. It praised how UAS increasingly incorporates Alaska Native languages, arts and cultures in its curriculum, working with partners like Sealaska Heritage Institute and Tlingit and Haida Central Council. It recognized the important work underway to make our university campuses places of cultural safety and equity.
One other highlight of the team’s report makes me especially proud: our accreditation visitors were extremely impressed by the high level of engagement and dedication of students, faculty, and staff in making UAS a quality university. Forums designed for reviewers to meet with these groups were standing room only. Students in particular spoke out about why their UAS education was important; students like India Busby of Juneau who wrote recently about how personal challenges early in her life initially made it impossible to consider college. After high school she found a job locally where her boss and people she met encouraged her to continue her education. She enrolled, and reported that “I actually loved UAS so much that I left my job … and decided to become a student employee. … I have been given wonderful opportunities at this school, opportunities that I would not have gotten anywhere else.” She goes on to say, “I’m going to be honest, I never thought that I would have these opportunities. I never thought that I would be graduating from UAS, or any college for that matter. If it wasn’t for the faculty and staff members here at UAS, I would not be where I am today.” Today, India works fulltime at the university and advises others who are overcoming their own challenges to earn a degree and build a better life for themselves and their families.
The University of Alaska Southeast exists to support our students, improve the economic vitality of our communities and build a future workforce for all of Alaska. As chancellor, I’m especially appreciative of the strong community support UAS receives: from employers who hire our graduates, business leaders who serve on our advisory councils, donors who contribute scholarship funds that make college affordable, and partners who support UAS leadership statewide in programs like teacher preparation, maritime training, and business and public administration.
As we Alaskans debate what our future university will look like, it’s important to celebrate success in meeting high accreditation standards. I’m proud of the work of our UAS faculty and staff in achieving this important milestone. It reminds us all that an investment in a strong university is an investment in a positive future for Alaska.
• Richard Caulfield is the University of Alaska Southeast Chancellor.