GUEST COMMENTARY: UAA provides return on investment for students, economy

The University of Alaska Anchorage is an open access, modern, urban metropolitan university.

UAA grew up with Anchorage and is designed to serve this community. In addition, UAA is also an important resource for Alaska. We are similar to many other state universities that were previously commuter and safety schools.

Like UAA, they are now growing and dynamic schools of choice drawing great students, faculty and staff. To understand UAA’s impact, it’s important to first understand the students we serve.

About 30 percent of UAA students are first-generation college students, and more than 80 percent work full- or part-time while in school. Our students are often caring for family members and children, are veterans or current military in addition to their course loads.

A majority of our students commute each day. At other universities, these qualities are normally considered risk factors to students completing their degrees. At UAA we understand this means our students are overcoming obstacles just to be here, and we work hard to provide them with every opportunity to succeed.

We also know the value of a degree matters to our students. Recently, a Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce report named UAA among the top 15 percent of universities in the U.S. in terms of return on investment.

The report considered 4,500 colleges and universities, taking into account earnings over 10- and 40-year time frames after graduation as well as average debt incurred. Among our peer universities, we were ranked No. 1 for return on investment.

I’m very proud that UAA is being recognized for this, and I know our students realize it too. Despite an overall drop in enrollment after serious budget uncertainty, UAA saw one of its largest incoming freshman classes last fall, with 38 percent of incoming freshman entering with a 3.5 GPA or higher.

We also provide a great value and return on investment to the community, and we are a major driver of Alaska’s economy. According to Visit Anchorage, an international food studies conference held at UAA this past summer generated over $1 million in revenue.

Another conference on data science brought in more than $5 million. Our role in the community is recognized, and we have recently received significant support from partners including Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alaska and the Atwood Foundation.

Our rigorous undergraduate and graduate research programs, and our applied research works to solve the state’s most pressing problems. Our communities benefit from UAA’s diverse group of centers and institutes devoted to special concerns and opportunities associated with northern populations as well as our connections to the national and international community.

In addition, of our more than 57,000 alumni, 72 percent remain in Alaska. Most have chosen to live and work in the Anchorage Bowl or Mat-Su Valley, supporting and invigorating the Anchorage workforce.

Since I began my role as UAA chancellor in September 2018, it hasn’t always been an easy road but I remain optimistic for the future. In spite of fiscal challenges we face due to recent state funding cuts, we remain focused on serving our students. We continue to look forward and create the best university for Anchorage.

I know there are great things ahead for UAA, for Anchorage and for our students.

Cathy Sandeen is the chancellor for the University of Alaska Anchorage.

02/12/2020 - 9:39am