University of Alaska sees declining enrollment for COVID-impacted fall semester

University of Alaska Southeast. (08/05/2020)
University of Alaska Southeast. (08/05/2020)(KTUU)
Published: Aug. 5, 2020 at 6:28 PM AKDT
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - The University of Alaska is seeing declining enrollment as administrators prepare for a COVID-impacted fall semester.

At the University of Alaska Southeast, Dr. Karen Carey, the interim chancellor, reported that roughly 17% fewer students have registered to study when classes resume in late-August. At the University of Alaska Anchorage, Chancellor Dr. Cathy Sandeen says that enrollment is down 14.4%. “Overall, UAF is down 6% in headcount this fall,” said Chancellor Dr. Daniel White of the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

All the University of Alaska chancellors hope the registration gap will narrow before fall classes start Aug. 24. 

The number of students not signing up for classes or cancelling courses will hit the universities financially. UAS could lose up to $1 million. White estimates that UAF will be down $4.3 million while UAA could lose $5.4 million.

“As part of our COVID-19 response, the university reimbursed students for services we did not provide during the spring and summer semesters related to student fees and housing and dining expenditures,” Ryan Buchholdt, UAA interim budget director, wrote by email. “CARES Act funding helped cover the cost for student-related reimbursements, and some remaining funding will continue to assist with reimbursements for student fees in the coming academic year. CARES Act funding does not, however, cover things like rental cancellations for outside groups using university facilities. We are currently working through scenarios for our auxiliary operations and fixed costs associated with those.”

University administrators are busy preparing their campuses for COVID. All three universities will mandate face coverings and are increasing the availability of online classes. “We’ve always at UAS done a far amount of online (classes), that’s not a new thing,” said Michael Ciri, the vice chancellor for administration at UAS. 

At UAA, almost 80% of classes will be held online-only, around 45% of classes will be held online-only at UAF while UAS is set to see similar distance learning numbers. All three universities are reducing the number of students living in student housing and increasing social distance in classrooms.

“It has been extremely challenging,” Ciri said. Plans have changed at UAS weekly with new mandates and as more is learned about coronavirus. 

The Juneau UAS campus will see 28 faculty and roughly 310 students studying in-person. Those numbers could change if COVID numbers rise or fall.

The focus, on top of safety, is on ensuring students are able to keep studying. “We need to make sure that they’re still able to achieve their dreams,” Ciri said. 

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