More Alaskan high school graduates are deciding to continue their education at the University of Alaska, and that trend is directly related to program and policy innovations that have been brought about in the last few years at the States largest University by such people as Lee Gorsuch, UAA Chancellor.
Gorsuch first joined the UAA team in 1976, and since then has participated at one level or another in more than 70 social and economic research projects. It what may have been the Chancellor's last visit to the KPC campus last week, Gorsuch visited with the KPC Council, which is the public advisory council, addressed the Soldotna Rotary Club, and spent more than two hours visiting with students at KPC, listening to their concerns about education, and answering their questions.
Gorsuch believes that the most important element causing the change is getting the message out that that is what we want our young people to do, "We want them to stay here because we know that Alaska is going to compete in the 21st Century with our brain power not our brawn power, and the only way to do that is to start growing our own talent. So we have been very aggressive in going out and recruiting students," said Gorsuch.
Another element in the turnaround according to Gorsuch is the Alaska scholars program initiated by UAA President Mark Hamilton, where the University started awarding full scholarships to the top ten percent of the graduating classes in Alaska, "We're now getting more than 55% of the students that are eligible accepting those scholarships, and once the top students decide that they are going to stay here, then the other kids are saying if it's good enough for them it aught to be good enough for me," said the Chancellor.
Additionally in both Anchorage and Fairbanks the University has developed residential housing so students have a place to stay and have a traditional life on campus experience. Gorsuch believes that students are also becoming aware of the cost differential of UAA compared to schools outside, "Even though we've kicked our tuition up 10% and it's going up another 10% next year, compared to the relative expense of other universities this is great buy. You get a good education here for significantly less money plus they have the opportunity if they need to, to live at home and get a job in the community and therefore not wind up going into 30-40 thousand dollars in debt as a result of going to school. All those factors combined and you find Alaska is a great value and there are significant opportunities right here," added Gorsuch.
To continue the trend Gorsuch believes the State will have to continue to invest in the University as a part of it's fiscal strategy and not go to flat or reduced funding, "That's going to be a real challenge in the face of looming deficits on the State budget, but if the State is willing to continue to make those investments, we'll continue to demonstrate the positive return, if not it'll only be a few years and we'll start slipping the other way again and the students uncertainty will cause them to go outside," said Gorsuch.
Gorsuch will be retiring in June from his position as Chancellor, "I'm a direct result of what we haven't been able to do. The realities are that 70% of kids that go to school out of state don't come back. Unfortunately, my two daughters went to school out of state because we didn't offer the kind campus that they were looking for at home and they haven't returned. My grandchildren are now getting to the age where if I don't spend time with them I'm not going to know them as young people, so we've decided that I'm going to step down from Alaska's best job and join them in Bellingham Washington next year," said Gorsuch.
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