New UAA Chancellor and former Gov. Sean Parnell was in Kodiak Tuesday to meet with faculty and students at Kodiak College as part of a six-stop tour to meet with all the major branches within the UAA system.
He also spoke at the Noon Rotary Club, where he answered questions and addressed concerns about the current state of affairs at Kodiak College and the University of Alaska Anchorage system at large.
He outlined the path forward he saw for the UAA system that would keep students in school and help them navigate their changing needs.
Despite the hardships that Kodiak College is facing, it’s still ahead of the game, according to Parnell. Many of the challenges that other University of Alaska Anchorage colleges are facing, such as enrollment and community outreach, are being handled well at Kodiak, he said.
This fall term, for instance, there are 495 students enrolled in Kodiak College, which is up 6% from last fall’s enrollment of 469 students. In contrast, across the entire University of Alaska Anchorage system, enrollment dropped by 11.6% this year, according to Parnell.
“Kodiak to me looks to be a success story,” he said. “What it speaks to is the opportunity that people see in Kodiak.”
At the club meeting, the stability in enrollment was credited to Kodiak College’s Career and Technical Education Coordinator Lorraine Stewart. She led the outreach program in the high school to recruit students to take classes at Kodiak College both before and after they graduated, she said.
However, the root of the enrollment problem lies in retention, not recruitment, according to Parnell. And despite the increase in student enrollment from the past year, 2020 enrollment is still 42% less than the number of students who were enrolled in 2017, according to Kodiak College Director Jacelyn Keys.
This is in large part because of increased tuition, Keys said. Over the past five years, the prices of 100 and 200 level courses, and 300 and 400 level courses have increased by 38% and 22%, respectively. Currently, it costs $234 to take a lower level class and $282 for an upper level class.
Parnell cannot fix this problem. What he can do is make the University of Anchorage schools more helpful to students so that if their needs change as they go through school they have the option to stay in the system instead of dropping out, he said.
Parnell also spoke about creating an open access system between the University of Alaska Anchorage, University of Alaska Fairbanks and University of Alaska Southeast. This would include making it easier for students to transfer credits between state schools and collaborating with the other university chancellors.
The communication between schools has been improving. Since Friday, Parnell has been in contact with University of Alaska Fairbanks Chancellor Daniel White about an issue he has with UAA’s system that he believes Fairbanks is handling better, he said. He would not disclose what this issue was.
In addition to making it easier for students to earn degrees, Parnell wants to increase the diversity of people in the system. Earlier this week, UAA hired its first Alaska Native, Indigenous and Rural Outreach Program Coordinator, Michele Yatchmeneff. Parnell created this position to increase the enrollment of Alaska Native and Pacific Islander students.