Falling enrollment, fewer students studying to be teachers: UA President’s stark appraisal

UA President Jim Johnsen and UAA Chancellor Dr. Cathy Sandeen field questions from students of...
UA President Jim Johnsen and UAA Chancellor Dr. Cathy Sandeen field questions from students of the UAA College of Education at a listening session, Feb. 12, 2019 (KTUU) (KTUU)
Published: Jan. 30, 2020 at 10:21 AM AKST
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The University of Alaska President gave lawmakers a stark appraisal of the university system on Wednesday after a year of budget turmoil.

Dr. Jim Johnsen spoke to a joint session of the House and Senate Education Committees, describing falling student numbers overall and fewer students studying to become teachers.

From Fall 2018 to Fall 2019, the University of Alaska Anchorage saw a 9.5% decline in student enrollment.

“As a percentage, it is double any previous decline we’ve seen since 2002,” Bruce Schultz, the vice chancellor for student affairs, wrote by email. “It’s important to note that enrollment grew fairly consistently from 2002 through our all-time high of 20,699 students in 2011.”

Since 2011, there has been a steady decline in students enrolling at the three universities in the University of Alaska system. Johnsen put that down to a low-rate of college attendance in Alaska, high-paying jobs in-state that don’t require a college degree and budget uncertainty.

But, It’s not just students leaving the university enmass.

“We have 1,727 fewer faculty and staff than we did in 2015,” Johnsen said before saying he was very concerned by the 11% of staff members who had left the university voluntarily in that period.

The university is also seeing fewer students studying to be teachers at the University of Alaska Anchorage. In 2019, the School of Education lost its accreditation for initial licensure programs that were then eliminated.

In Fall of 2018, there were 475 students studying to be teachers at UAA, dropping to 107 in the Fall of 2019, a drop of 77%.

UAS and UAF saw a small rise in education students after the announcement but it wasn’t equal to the drop at UAA.

Johnsen says the university is expanding outreach to high schools to get students on a path to higher education and to become teachers themselves.

“We have particularly strong interest from the Anchorage area high schools as well as those in the Mat-Su Borough,” Schultz said. “We are especially pleased that the Board of Regents has agreed to increase our scholarship offerings another $1.5 million, and we know that will be tremendously helpful for our students who tend to “pay as you go.””

As an alternative to giving the university more funding for operational costs, Johnsen is asking lawmakers to appropriate $60 million to help with the university’s $1.2 billion deferred maintenance backlog. “We do have some facilities that are quite long in the tooth,” he said.

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