University system tries to curb enrollment drop

Posted: Friday, December 03, 2004

The University of Alaska administration noticed an 8 percent drop in enrollment at Kenai Peninsula College, and enrollment numbers are lower this year at community campuses all over the state.

University of Alaska President Mark Hamilton and University of Alaska Anchorage Chancellor Elaine Maimon plan to boost those enrollment numbers by building new curriculums. Hamilton, Maimon and KPC Director Gary Turner expressed university goals at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce luncheon Wednesday.

Maimon said she and the administration are looking ahead as a 21st century university. The UAA philosophy is to have a partnership with the community, to maintain a dialogue to stay ahead of the game, he said.

Hamilton said one challenge is keeping the interest of students who withdraw from college courses, or think that a high school education is enough.

"College offers what some high school classes might not have. Kids have got to explore, and can do that in college," Hamilton said.

Maimon said first-generation college students sometimes have a narrow view of what college is and not what college can be.

"The challenge is to get people to understand that it is about exploring and discovering a career path and that getting a liberal arts education is essential to being prepared, developing a spirit and sense of flexibility," she said.

The administrative plan is to view education through the eyes of real economic opportunities.

"The university wants to keep ahead of the curve by working directly with the leaders of industry in order to fill specific jobs. If a company says they need engineers, that's not good enough. I want to know what kind of jobs they need exactly and how many," Hamilton said.

"We have a statewide responsibility to bring specific education to various communities. You've got to pick your niches, find out which programs you can use, then sit down with the leaders of business and get the specifics," he said.

Though the plan may sound straightforward, it can take at least a year and a half to get a program running on campus, he said.

"We can't train local kids for new local jobs in one day. It takes time and planning to build up the curriculum. You've really got to define the requirements," Hamilton said.

Turner said KPC has been preparing a mining curriculum and recently revitalized the elementary education program. A new nursing program also is in place and starts in January.

Hamilton said KPC has done an exemplary job of communicating with the Anchorage campus. He congratulated KPC for the award of $167,000 from $1.2 million available to any unit of UA to use for improvements and grants. The second highest recipient was the arts and sciences department at the Anchorage campus with $106,000.

"In order to do well in the future, we have to do well now," Hamilton said. "We have to be focused, and we will win."

Also visiting the chamber meeting was Akihiro Aoki, consul general for Alaska from Japan. Aoki was presented the key to the city and proceeded to explain the relationship between Alaska and Japan as one with a productive history and future. Aoki said the economic relationship began small in the 1960s and has blossomed into $332 million in the first quarter of this year. He said the second quarter is expected to surpass the first.

"We must both be actively engaged to uphold our relationship. I am here today to reach out to the community. The economic growth is projected to reach 4.5 percent and there is still much to be done," he said.

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