UA president seeks help in retaining Alaska students

Posted: Tuesday, July 24, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- University of Alaska enrollment should rise again this fall but the state needs to do more to stop student brain drain, UA President Mark Hamilton said Monday.

UA enrollment increased last year for the first time since 1994 and should rise again in fall 2001 by as many as 600 students. But the battle has just begun, said Hamilton, UA president since August 1998.

''It's not enough,'' Hamilton said. ''Up's better than down, but I want them all. We have got to keep every one of them, or we will always and only be the last great colony, having to import all of our work force and expertise.''

In an address to the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, Hamilton linked long-standing low enrollment of Alaska students to the business community's complaints of an unskilled work force.

''The university is not one of several choices in moving forward in this state in terms of economics,'' Hamilton said. ''It is the only choice.''

UA remains the only state university system without need-based or merit-based scholarships paid for with state funding. Alaska ranks last nationally in retaining its college-bound students and second to last in the percentage of high school graduates who attend college.

''The end result of this ultimately is a brain drain,'' Hamilton said.

He stressed the importance of ties between UA students and Alaska businesses and industries, including areas such as health care, teacher education, technology, childhood development, social work and industry work force training.

Hamilton supports repaying student loans for UA graduates who stay in Alaska for jobs. ''Anything that looks like or tastes like encouragement to keep one of our bright young students here, I'm for it,'' he said.

Last year's enrollment boost is promising. Of the 750 students who were eligible for the Alaska Scholars Program -- scholarships for the top 10 percent of graduates in each Alaska high school, paid for out of a trust fund -- more than 400 have committed to fall 2001 enrollment, Hamilton said.

State spending on the university is up, as are corporate and private donations. And the university system has hired 140 professors in the past 1,000 days, ensuring continuing small class sizes.

''We still have that small-college atmosphere that really ends up being a marvelous advantage for our students,'' Hamilton said. ''Everything is looking up and moving forward.''

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