UAF sees increase in number of Native graduates

Posted: Tuesday, May 18, 2010

FAIRBANKS - The number of Alaska Native students graduating from the University of Alaska Fairbanks has reached an all-time high.

Nearly 1,200 students were to be recognized at commencement Sunday and preliminary figures indicate 265 of the award recipients are Alaska Native or American Indian.

That figure includes a spike in upper-level degrees.

UAF data specialist Ian Olson said the 33 Native students receiving master's degrees are more than double the previous high. The three doctoral degree recipients equal the total from the past decade.

"The institution has been working to service Alaska Native students and get degrees they're interested in, and I think we're seeing the results of that," Olson told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

UAF has historically attracted a significant number of Alaska Natives. Their success has been mixed. Dropout rates historically have been high and a lower-than-average percentage get a degree, Olson said.

The reasons behind the improvements are not clear, Olson said. Administrators say the increase can be attributed partly to the addition of degree programs that Native students find attractive and to an improved support network. Summer preparation programs have helped high school students adapt early to life on campus.

"I think part of it is having strong programs for student support - and that includes non-Native students too," said UAF Chancellor Brian Rogers. "Doing things that help people through the process is important."

New degree programs including a doctorate program in indigenous studies. Among master's degree recipients this year, about a third are in a linguistics program for educators who work in Yupik-speaking schools.

Outside funding to boost Native education also has helped.

The three doctoral students earning degrees this year all were awarded fellowships through the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

"We're making up for lost time, and the fellowship is a critical ingredient," said Ray Barnhardt, a UAF professor and director of the Center for Cross-Cultural Studies.

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