UA system plays vital role in Alaska's future

-- Fairbanks Daily News-Miner - April 8

Posted: Wednesday, April 11, 2001

The University of Alaska has made great strides in the two years since President Mark Hamilton enlisted the Legislature's assistance in reversing years of systemwide decline.

Student enrollment is up for the first time since 1994, a welcome development for a state that's been exporting many of its best young minds for a decade or more.

Academic programs in teacher education, health care, information technology and engineering are under substantial expansion. And not only are many of those high-demand programs witnessing improvement at the schools where they've been traditionally based, in some cases the classes are now available at additional campuses.

Through new partnerships with industry, UA has launched new training programs aimed at grooming a new generation of Alaskans for careers in the control rooms of oil fields, power plants and mining facilities.

At the same time, Hamilton has seen to it that long-standing staff vacancies in less sexy areas were filled and contract obligations were met, restoring some of the attraction of working for Alaska's state university system.

Much has been accomplished through the Legislature's participation in what Hamilton presented from the start as a three-year program for overhauling UA to meet an ambitious mission in years to come. Details on that progress are posted for inspection on the Web -- -- breaking down the staff positions filled, programs launched and at what cost.

Yet, much still needs to be done before Alaskans, and through association their university, can rest assured that this state is prepared to capitalize on its potential.

In an appearance before House budget writers in February, Hamilton offered his vision of the challenge inherent in managing the development of this state's vast resources for the best interests of Alaskans.

''There are some Alaskans who worry about the growth that will accompany such development. I can understand that,'' Hamilton said.

''In a state that has no personal income tax, growth means more people use the roads, more people use the schools and more people collect the permanent fund dividend.

''Here it is important to understand,'' UA's president said, ''the only way to have development without all the growth is to ensure that the maximum number of people who take new jobs are Alaskans. The university is committed to providing the education and training that will prepare Alaska for that promising future. Your university is the instrument of that resolution.''

To complete the mission outlined above, Hamilton, with the backing of the UA Board of Regents, has requested another increase of roughly $18 million in the coming year's budget.

As of last week, lawmakers were nearing agreement on a proposal to increase UA's operations budget by roughly half the requested amount.

Given what's been accomplished so far, and with such an impressive degree of accountability, is it necessary or wise to discount Hamilton's vision of what UA could contribute to Alaska's future?

(We) urge lawmakers to review UA's progress to date, and seriously ponder the possibilities ahead. The consequences of settling for less should become clear.

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