Guest Commentary: Accredited universities help Alaska prosper
The University of Alaska Anchorage recently hosted a team of accreditors from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU) from Oct. 8-10. The visitors witnessed a vibrant campus full of faculty, staff, and administrators who care deeply about our students, and who are enthusiastically dedicated to our educational mission. The nine site visitors read the Accreditation Self Study that UAA produced, which compiled data and information from all aspects of the University, and during the campus visit met with faculty, students, staff, and administrators.
The Northwest Commission will issue its final decision at its Board Meeting in January of 2019. This is a process that all NWCCU-accredited universities go through every seven years — and is the gold standard for any university. Accreditation allows the students to receive federal financial aid and to receive degrees, certificates, and occupational endorsements that are recognized by employers and universities nationally. Because more than 80 percent of UAA’s graduates stay in Alaska, this process is helping to grow Alaska’s workforce by providing students with high-quality, nationally recognized credentials.
To clarify, the UA system has a Board of Regents and president who provide administrative oversight of all three separately accredited universities and work with the governor and Legislature on our annual budget allocation from the State of Alaska. UAA, UAF and UAS have their own chancellors, who direct each of their respective institutions.
UAA and its community campuses in Kenai, Homer, Kodiak, Prince William Sound and the Mat-Su, are very proud of our accomplishments, and we have worked very hard, despite the budget challenges the university has faced. Each of our respective universities in the UA System, UAA, UAF and UAS, also have to go through this process every seven years, as we are separately accredited institutions. UAS will have their site visit in spring 2019, and UAF’s will be in fall 2019.
UA is an enduring system. UAA alone has more than 17,000 students and 600 faculty, the most out of the three universities. Each of those and its community campuses have unique profiles and “personalities” that reflect our local communities and specialized programs that are unique. UAA became a unit within the University of Alaska in 1962 and has been separately accredited by the NWCCU since 1974; UAS was established in 1972, and UAF, formerly known as the University of Alaska, was established in 1935.
The more than 17,000 UAA students reflect the history and community demographic of South Central, the most populous region of Alaska. UAA’s students are predominantly from Alaska. Almost one-third are first generation students, 10 percent are Alaska Native, and 34 percent represent ethnic minorities. We are a diverse campus!
In 2017, UAA graduated 2,460 students with certificates and degrees. Most UAA graduates remain in Alaska and data show their annual income is greatly increased by having a degree. We have over 100 programs, over 100 student clubs, and 13 NCAA sports.
In conclusion, the Faculty Alliance, composed of faculty from UAA, UAF and UAS, congratulates UAA on their recent accreditation site visit, a major step in the process of reaffirmation, and supports continued collaboration across our institutions, and looks forward to the accreditation site visits scheduled for UAS in spring 2019 and for UAF in fall 2019. Look forward to more op-ed pieces from the Faculty Alliance highlighting each of our three universities in the UA system, their distinct local personalities, and the unique strengths that each university brings to the State of Alaska.
Chris Fallen, Ph.D. (UAF) is chair of the UA Faculty Alliance. Maria Williams, Ph.D. (UAA) is vice-chair of the UA Faculty Alliance. The University of Alaska Board of Regents established the Faculty Alliance to serve as a mechanism for faculty UA System governance.