Studying in Alaska

On a recent trip to Alaska I had the chance to learn a bit about the universities there and was impressed with what I saw. I wrote the article below about my observations. It was originally posted on the website, which is no longer online.

Understanding Universities in Alaska

Aug 3, 2015

Have you ever thought of Alaska as a great place to attend college? The term “destination campus” pertains to universities that are located in places that in and of themselves are considered popular travel destinations. Alaska is a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts; those interested in rich cultural and natural history as well as those with an adventurous spirit, so why not include the universities in Alaska as destination campuses?

Though Anchorage is the largest city in Alaska, walking on the adjacent campuses of University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) and Alaska Pacific University (APU), you don’t realize you are in the middle of a bustling city. Abundant trees, lakes and a city-wide trail system run through both campuses which make for easy access for students to participate in outdoor pursuits.

Higher education in Alaska is a bit different. UAA, as the largest public institution in Alaska with over 16,000 undergraduates, serves the population of Alaska by offering a variety of programs, from certificate degrees all the way to doctoral degrees. Because the state of Alaska does not have a community college system, the four-year universities in Alaska also offer programs that would traditionally be offered in a community college. Many Alaskan students choose the certificate or associates degrees because they can enter Alaska’s high demand/high pay jobs, such as mining, welding, oil refinery or other natural resource based industries, with those credentials.

Alaska also has a number of military bases with their personnel taking classes on the various campuses. Because of the unique mission of the Alaska public universities, serving a wide variety of needs, it can skew the statistics that many first-time freshman look at when researching colleges. For example, the average age of a UAA student according to the College Board’s Big Future website is 28 years old and 45 percent are part-time students. That makes sense when you consider the military personnel or certain programs that are attracting older or returning students that are currently work full time.

Being situated in Anchorage, UAA offers a number of programs that capitalize on the region. Hotel and restaurant management, global logistics and supply chain management, aviation technology, geological sciences, geomatics, and a full complement of health related and engineering majors are just some of the programs that make use of the location. Minors in air traffic control, Alaska native studies, Canadian studies, and international Pacific studies are also available. However students can also find many of the majors traditionally found on most university campuses. Facilities, like the UAA Aviation Technology Complex, offer state-of the art equipment. And for the sports fan, the new Alaska Airlines Center rivals any arena for NCAA Division I schools, though only ice hockey and gymnastics are at the Division I level, and the rest of the teams are Division II.

Alaska Pacific University, located right next door to UAA, is a small private liberal arts university with about 325 undergraduates. As one of the six Eco League colleges in the U.S., it too capitalizes on the location for its ecologically focused education. Hands-on, active learning in small seminar style classes is a hallmark of their teaching tradition. Their first year experience program, called “Expedition Alaska,” is a destination-themed course for new students where the class travels to various sites in Alaska, in addition to their common reading and classroom study. Most majors at APU are natural science based, such as environmental science, marine biology, earth science and outdoor studies. Programs in business, liberal studies, counseling psychology and a handful of minors, associates and advanced degrees are also offered. Students can participate in exchanges with the other Eco League colleges and go on school sponsored travel courses. APU offers a junior-year travel grant to help students with travel expenses.

APU made headlines when it reduced tuition in 2014 by approximately 34 percent. They also offer generous scholarships to both in and out-of-state students. They have created the APU Promise Tuition Grant for Pell-eligible students that provides additional funding both for maximum and partial Pell-eligible students. By using donor funded scholarships and other grants, these students could have their tuition expenses fully covered.

Outdoor Magazine lists APU as one of their Top 25 Universities. The 170 acre campus boasts a network of cross country ski trails and their Nordic Ski center is home of Olympic and U.S. Ski Team student-athletes. APU’s robust outdoor programs offers something for everyone, and their location makes it easy to access trails, lakes, rivers and mountains.

Why not put Alaska universities on your college list? There seems to be a trend that people go to Alaska for a short stint and end up calling Alaska home. You may find that Alaska has more to offer than just great educational options.

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