Study shows large dropout rate at Alaska's public university

Posted: Wednesday, May 28, 2008

ANCHORAGE - A study by economists at the University of Alaska Anchorage shows 28 percent of full-time freshmen at schools throughout the state's university system do not return for their second year.

The study by the Institute for Social and Economic Research reiterates a long-standing problem in Alaska: A large number of students are unprepared for studying at the college level.

As many as two-thirds of incoming UA freshmen aren't prepared for college-level math and English, according to the study.

Compared with other states, Alaska has more dropouts, fewer graduates who go to college, fewer students who continue with college, and even fewer who obtain their degrees within six years. The study supports recent similar findings by the state Postsecondary Education Commission.

Former provost and dean of the college of arts and sciences, Theodore Kassier, wrote the study with Alexandra Hill.

"Without the public's attention and understanding that these problems exist, and that they need to be addressed by the whole state, the university is just banging its head against the wall," Kassier told the Anchorage Daily News.

Rachael Bellomy, a 2007 graduate of East High, is dropping out of UAA after her first year. Bellomy took remedial math and English classes her first semester to catch up, but college-level English 111 in her second semester convinced her college wasn't for her.

"I couldn't stay focused," said the 18-year-old. "It was just too much for me; I was overwhelmed."

She said she has changed her plan to become a psychologist and instead is looking for a job in a massage therapist's office. She may train to be a masseuse.

Students who manage to stay the course are less likely to graduate with a B.A. in six years than their Lower 48 counterparts. According to the study, only 28 percent of UA students graduate with bachelor's degrees within six years, compared with a national average of 56 percent.

On the upside, University of Alaska schools have attracted more students and kept costs at bay more effectively than many universities elsewhere in the country.

UA spokeswoman Kate Ripley said the university system has taken several steps over recent years to address problems highlighted in the study.

Efforts include expanding distance learning, eliminating waiting lists for classes by scheduling more basic required courses, and increased fundraising efforts, she said.

The University of Alaska, with three main campuses, in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau, is the state's only public university, with about 32,000 students.

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