At UAA, non-traditional students take longer route to graduation

Vincent Gregory, English major, has taken eight years to reach graduation after the culture shock of moving to Anchorage from Kalskag. Gregory hopes to pursue graduate school in the future. Photo credit: Young Kim

Most people believe that it takes four years to graduate college, but the reality is that many students don’t graduate in that four-year time frame. For many UAA students, the path to graduation can be much longer.

Vincent Gregory is a graduating senior majoring in English. Vincent has been at UAA since the spring semester of 2009. When Gregory started college, he felt he wasn’t prepared.

“No one showed me the ropes… I didn’t know what advisers were, GER’s, DegreeWorks,” Gregory said. “[I] was completely in the dark about everything.”

Gregory is a product of the poor college readiness in the villages of Alaska, and the poor outreach given to remote locations. Gregory is an Alaska Native student hailing from Kalskag, a small village near Bethel, where outreach isn’t the best.

“It took me about a year to find my footing,” Gregory said.

Gregory talked in length about the culture shock of moving to the city, and the help he received to get back on track. The main problem is that the university struggles to recruit native students, but when they do enroll, UAA struggles on how to keep students on the right track to graduate.

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Gregory wants to enroll into a master’s program or get another degree involving his native heritage, and one day carve over 10,000 rings.

“If I took everything I knew now and put it back in my freshman year… I would’ve graduated now,” Gregory said. “You shouldn’t feel rushed or pressured in school… I say start school when you’re ready and at a pace you feel comfortable with, otherwise you might as well be chased by wolves.”

Chris Richardson has been at UAA since January of 2010. Richardson fell off track due to personal issues, but believes that straying off the beaten path is a part of life.

“I was originally a computer science major, and then after I found out I had to take calculus… the week after that, I was an English major,” Richardson said.

Richardson also aspires to be a famous author. His poem book, “Taking Back the Romantic” is finished, and Richardson has been talking with publishers to get it printed.

“I want to become a well-known author…like James Patterson, like that well-known…that would be amazing,” Richardson said. “It doesn’t matter if it takes four years or seven years. As long as you get there..that’s the whole point.”

While Gregory and Richardson get ready for commencement, Stone Sibbett is getting ready for another semester attending UAA.

Sibbett has been at UAA for about four years now, and he doesn’t really know when he’ll be finished. He is currently majoring in social work but is trying to change to a custom major in therapeutic recreation with a minor in outdoor leadership.

Like Richardson, Sibbett’s long tenure at UAA can be contributed to him changing majors.

“I originally got an associates degree in human services, then switched to the bachelor’s degree and then switched to social work,” Sibbett said. “And then I decided I rather do something outside in the recreation therapy side of things. it would be something I would enjoy.”

Sibbett has also run into a roadblock in terms of when he is going to graduate.

“If I wanted to pursue something in the outdoor field, I need more time outside. So I have to get outdoor experience, and that doesn’t mater if I have the degree or not… So I’m not super gung-ho on finishing,” Sibbett said. “I can’t really make money in that field either unless I go out and work for somebody at a low-wage job for quite a long time.”

For now, Sibbett and his roommates have started trying to make laundry soap and cargo bike frames to sell to people in parts of the world without bikes.

“I guess my degree has become more of a hobby. ‘Cause with manufacturing it’s something I can make money with now, where I can’t make money with [my degree], instead I want to pursue my degree and do something with it eventually to benefit,” Sibbett said. “I would encourage anyone that is considering taking longer time to get their degree [to] really consider what they want out [of] their degree… one thing that helped me in my education is I started taking classes in things I would enjoy and enrich my life,” Sibbett said.

There are a multitude of reasons why someone won’t graduate on time, be it personal reasons, lack of college readiness or even just trying to find the right career path. Everybody in life takes shortcuts, not everyone can stay on the same road. For these UAA students, they just took the long way around.