Top 15% national ranking highlights UAA value after tumultuous year


ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - On Monday afternoon University of Alaska Anchorage Chancellor Cathy Sandeen and University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen updated Anchorage business leaders on where the university system stands and the path forward after a trying year.

In January, UAA's School of Education initial teacher licensure program lost accreditation, and the Board of Regents eventually voted to discontinue the program.

In February, Gov. Mike Dunleavy's proposed a budged that cut 41% of state funding to the UA system. For the ensuing six months, the university and its regents, legislators and the governor haggled over budget reductions and the university leadership wrestled with how to respond to the cuts.

In August, the Governor announced a funding plan that would spread cuts to the university over three years with a total reduction of $70 million.

During that time, enrollment at UAA dropped just over 12%. Sandeen said that given UAA serves many non-traditional students, it's not uncommon for students to not take classes one semester and resume them later due to other life circumstances.

"So I think with the uncertainty over the summer, more of our students decided to take a wait-and-see approach," Sandeen said. "We did survey them and they said specifically the uncertainty over the summer influenced them to not enroll in the Fall semester, but we are going full bore, reminding them of the advantages of getting back in there and finishing their degree and we expect to see a turnaround in that really soon."

Earlier in the year the plan for reviewing which programs to change or eliminate was planned to take place at the system level. However, the Board of Regents stopped that approach, allowing the chancellors at each UA campus to complete the review.

"We're doing an expedited process. We want to get these answers quickly," Sandeen said. "The vast majority in our most popular areas, like health care, engineering and business will remain."

Sandeen did not list an exact deadline for when UAA plans to complete the program review, but it will come sometime in early 2020 and give high school seniors enough time to make a decision about where to attend college.

In the interim, both Sandeen and Johnsen are working to improve the tone of the narrative surrounding discussions about the university.

Sandeen touts a Georgetown University analysis ranking 4,500 colleges and universities by return on investment that lists UAA in the top 15%. Although the calculations put UAA in the middle of the pack when looking at a 10 year horizon, the university's rank increases with each following decade, finishing at 696 for 40-year rank.

"University of Alaska Anchorage is university of place, we're here to serve Anchorage and we are strong and we're doing a good job. Even with our budget challenges, we are still here and we are still strong," Sandeen said.

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