At the University of Alaska Anchorage, enrollment is down 9 percent vs. fall 2019 enrollment, according to university data. That’s down, but a far cry better than the 15 percent anticipated from early enrollment in the spring.
Mat-Su College, which is part of UAA, is down 13 percent from its fall 2019 enrollment, generally in line with expectations. University of Alaska Fairbanks, or UAF, is down 4.4 percent from its fall 2019 enrollment, also in line with expectations. University of Alaska Southeast, or UAS, is down 4.8 percent.
System-wide, the university is down 7.4 percent from the fall 2019 enrollment. Spring early enrollment had reflected a 20 percent drop from spring enrollment in 2019, a trend that worried university officials. Fortunately, the student turnout was better.
The university has been showing declining enrollment for years, basically in line with falling Alaska high school graduations and lower student populations in schools overall. COVID-19 appears to have accelerated the decline this year but not to the degree expected.
As the university developed its plans for the safest-possible reopening this fall more Alaska students made up their minds to enroll.
Within the UA system, five academic units showed gains: The rural college network, where students can take classes through local community centers, is up 4 percent; Ketchikan is up 5 percent; Sitka is up 14 percent, and the University of Alaska Fairbanks’s School of Management is up 7 percent.
Academic units showing losses include University of Alaska Anchorage’s College of Arts and Sciences, down 10 percent; Kenai down 23 percent; UAF’s Community and Technical College down 16 percent; UAA’s Community and Technical College down 17 percent.
The declines in the technical colleges at UAF and UAA are likely a reflection of the need for technical schools to rely more on traditional class instruction and possible concerns among students over COVID-19 exposure. Distance education is more difficult in many technical courses.
There are encouraging trends for the university amongst some of the data.
Applications to the university for new students is down less than full enrollment drop for all students, at 7.5 percent down for UAA; 2.7 percent down for UAF and with an increase of 4.6 percent for UAS.
Also, the university’s “scholars” program is being continued despite the university’s budget problems. In this program high school graduates who perform at the top of their classes get an annual cash award that can be used for tuition or other expenses. The university finances the scholar’s program from its annual land revenues.
High school graduates eligible for UA’s Scholars Program are among top performers who usually go out of state. By offering cash incentives to attend the University of Alaska the program helps retail talented young people in the state.
Studies show that many university graduates tend to remain near the institution they graduated from to live and seek employment, so the scholars program is an effort to slow the “brain drain” of young people out of state.