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UAS begins classes amidst enrollment boom

Posted: Thursday, September 02, 2010

The University of Alaska Southeast is on a roll, beefing up academic programs and attracting new students to its Auke Lake campus.

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Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

As classes start in Juneau today, one of three main parts of the University of Alaska system, they're seeing applications and admissions rising faster than they are statewide, and seeing the number of top high school graduates who chose to attend UAS spike sharply as well.

That's at a time when the nation's economy is hurting, which sometimes boosts college enrollment, but Chancellor John Pugh thinks there's something more at work than that.

"I'd be naive to think it is all our quality, but over the last 10 years we did add a lot of programs and I think that our reputation is better within Alaska," Pugh said.

At the same time, he said, the school and the Legislature have worked hard to keep tuition increases in check, or at least below elsewhere in the nation to be competitive.

"Tuitions have been raised considerably at public institutions outside (the state), a much steeper curve than ours, and ours has gone up a lot," Pugh said.

Despite that, Pugh said parents who write tuition checks to UAS are increasingly comfortable doing so.

"They're much more confident with their son or daughter coming here and getting a good education," he said.

Where that confidence has really stood out is in the University of Alaska Scholars program, in which state funds provide scholarships for the very top students at each Alaska High School to UA schools.

This year, enrollments of UA Scholars at UAS are up nearly 50 percent, compared to single-digit increases in Fairbanks, the UA system's flagship school, and Anchorage, where its largest number of students are enrolled.

Pugh said that's taken a concerted effort, ranging from basing a recruiter in Anchorage and bringing high school guidance counselors from around the state to see the school first hand.

He said they make full use of the stunning campus, with views of glaciers, mountain peaks and the nearby lake and ocean to promote the school.

"They're always blown away by the campus," he said.

Where before Juneau frequently wasn't even considered, Pugh said the new effort is to make students aware of what's available and let the school sell itself.

UA Scholar Katarina Spaic, of Palmer, made her own decision to attend UAS after being sold in Juneau during a high school visit to town.

Thursday, after getting off a university-chartered whale watching trip for new students, she was thrilled with her decision.

"It was awesome," she said. "My friend, who is from Juneau, said it was the most whales they'd ever seen," Staic said.

She wanted to stay in Alaska, at least for the first few years of her education, and also applied to Anchorage and Fairbanks as insurance. But she was sold on Juneau, especially after visiting as part of the "Close-up" program during high school.

She said she wanted the away-from-home college experience, but also wanted to stay in Alaska. "I really love Alaska," she said.

"The rain doesn't bother me, and it is not as cold as Fairbanks," she said, explaining how she settled on Juneau.

UA system enrollment data shows the Juneau campus one of those leading the state in enrollment growth. This year it has a 9 percent increase in the number of students, and an 11.9 percent increase in credit hours, indicating more full-time students than last year.

The UA system as a whole had an increase of 4.2 percent in students, and 4.9 percent in credit hours.

The increase in students has also meant new staff at the school, ranging from those who moved across town to teach at UAS to those who moved across the globe to teach in Juneau.

Maren Haavig will teach government and finance accounting in the college of business, having previously worked in financial management for the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities in Juneau.

She's originally from Sitka, and got a degree from UAS before it made some of its big improvements, such as the Egan Library.

She'd taught as an adjunct professor in the past and liked it enough to begin to do it full-time, she said.

Coming from farther away is Lindsey Ellingson, an assistant professor in Economics. She taught last year in Sweden, and before that in New Zealand, after having been raised in South Dakota.

Unpacking boxes in a barren office - she accepted the job just two and a half weeks ago - Ellingson said she's been trying to get back to Alaska since visiting family members in Skagway five years ago.

"I fell in love with the region," she said.

Ellingson studies resource and environmental economics, including such things as how to value the economic impact of tourism, and said Juneau will likely figure into future research.

• Contact Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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