University of Alaska system wants help from businesses to see future employment needs

Educators look for boost as budget, enrollment decline

The University of Alaska Southeast sign stands at the university’s entrance in January 2017. UAS is working to prepare for the future, soliciting help from local businesses to get a picture of what needs employers will have in coming years.

The University of Alaska is looking to almost double the amount of Alaskans who attend college in the next decade, but has to do so with a dwindling budget.

 

Speaking to the Juneau Chamber of Commerce on Thursday, University of Alaska Southeast Chancellor Rick Caulfield said that between 30 and 40 percent of people in Alaska have had some kind of post-secondary education. The University of Alaska chancellors want that number to be 65 percent by 2025.

The toughest challenge facing the university is that its budget has fallen by 19.1 percent the past four years, Caulfield said. Recruitment and enrollment is down 8 percent this year at UAS in particular, and the university has begun using a few programs to encourage people to enroll. Among these are the Finish College Alaska program for adult degree completion and Come Home to Alaska, which gives students in-state tuition if they have a parent, grandparent or great-grandparent living in the state.

Another solution, Caulfield said, is trying to look into the future with the help of business owners.

“One of the most important things for me in doing a presentation like this is getting your help,” Caulfield said. “I need to know, and my faculty need to know the changes that you see in your workforce needs. It is a changing world. Technologies are changing, the nature of the business that you’re doing is changing.”

If UAS faculty and officials can get a look at what’s coming for employers around the state, Caulfield said, they can build curriculum around those upcoming needs. This will not only prepare current students for the future of the workforce, but could also convince on-the-fence high school graduates to come to college.

Caulfield used mining as an example. Last month, UAS officials sat down with representatives from Hecla Mining Company and learned about what’s next for the mining industry. Caulfield was surprised to see that Hecla is starting to look into using remote-controlled vehicles to go underground and do the actual mining.

This “wave of the future,” as Caulfield called it, might convince more people to pursue higher education and further technical training.

“It’s those kinds of things we have to anticipate,” Caulfield said. “Even in the resource extraction industry, where you still think, ‘Well, we’re still gonna have high-wage jobs without a lot of education.’ Maybe, but more and more, it’s gonna be high-education jobs, highly skilled jobs that give you that competitive edge.”

Caulfield said he’s hoping to have more meetings like that, and had one recently with DIPAC about how best to run the university’s fisheries program. He said that when employers reach out, he can get faculty in a room with employers to “craft the program” as Caulfield said to make sure classes are preparing students for the working world.

It’s difficult to predict what exactly the job market is going to be in 2025, but Caulfield knows that having any kind of post-secondary education will greatly benefit young Alaskans looking for jobs.

“Of course, it’s always a matter of crystal ball gazing to an extent,” Caulfield said, “but nevertheless, it’s something where simply having a high school degree is not gonna be sufficient. Too often, those who only have a high school degree are gonna make less and be less competitive in the job market.”


• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or at alex.mccarthy@juneauempire.com.


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