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By RICK CAULFIELD
While headlines about the University of Alaska of late have focused on budget cuts and vetoes, I have positive news to share. The accreditation of the University of Alaska Southeast has been reaffirmed fully by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. This accreditation, based on nationally-recognized standards, is what allows UAS to grant degrees, award credit, and provide financial aid. Reaffirmation of UAS’ accreditation is a big deal. In this time of uncertainty and budget challenges, it confirms that UAS is providing high quality degrees, programs, and services to its students and the communities we serve.
A central focus of the accreditation process is fulfillment of the university’s mission. At UAS, our mission focuses on student learning and success. It includes providing students with special opportunities for research and for internship experiences in the workplace. It involves partnerships with business, industry, and government. It involves statewide leadership in high need areas like teacher preparation. And it includes offering degrees and programs that build on the cultures and environment of Southeast Alaska.
The accreditation team that visited UAS in April commended UAS for its achievements in just these areas. It lauded UAS faculty and staff for commitment to student success and retention. It noted success in integrating our three campuses — Juneau, Ketchikan, and Sitka — into one regional university with shared vision and values. It spotlighted the distinctive experiential learning opportunities that UAS offers its students, such as working as a legislative intern, engaging in research on glaciers or in the marine environment, student teaching in rural Alaska, or gaining on-the-job training at a nearby mine. It praised UAS for incorporating Alaska Native languages, arts, and cultures in its curriculum, working with partners like Sealaska Heritage Institute and Tlingit and Haida Central Council. It recognized the important work underway to make our university campuses places of cultural safety and equity.
One other highlight of the team’s report makes us especially proud: our accreditation visitors were impressed by the high level of engagement of students, faculty, and staff in making UAS a high quality university. In forums set up for reviewers to visit with these groups, the students in particular spoke out about why their UAS education was important. India Busby from Juneau wrote about how personal challenges early in her life initially made it impossible to consider college. After high school, she found a job locally where her boss encouraged her to continue her education. She enrolled, and reported that “I actually loved UAS so much that I left my job … and decided to become a student employee. ... I have been given wonderful opportunities at this school, opportunities that I would not have gotten anywhere else.” Today, India works fulltime at the university and advises others who are overcoming their own challenges to earn a degree and build a better life for themselves and their families.
The University of Alaska Southeast is here to support our students, improve the economic vitality of our communities, and build a future workforce for all of Alaska. I especially appreciate the strong community support UAS receives: from employers who hire our graduates, business leaders who serve on our advisory councils, donors who contribute scholarship funds that make college affordable, and partners who support UAS leadership statewide in programs like teacher preparation, maritime training, and business and public administration.
As Alaskans debate what our future university will look like, it’s important to celebrate success in meeting nationally-recognized standards. I’m proud of the work of our UAS faculty, staff, students, alumni, and community leaders in achieving this milestone. It reminds us all that an investment in a strong university is an investment in a positive future for Alaska.
Rick Caulfield is chancellor of the University of Alaska Southeast