Closing the School of Education is the right thing to do

It’s not the fun thing to do. The School of Education is such a significant and integral part of UAA that dissolving it feels like losing a part of the university’s identify. Teaching is no fringe profession, either. UAA is effectively exiting from a section of the economy that develops Alaska’s future.

So when UA President Jim Johnsen recommended the closure of the School of Education, strong reactions started to pour in. It feels defeatist, as if UAA is just giving up on some blighted programs that lost accreditation in January. Some fear a domino effect that would evoke the closure of more programs in the future. But Johnsen’s recommendation is the right thing to do, given the unfortunate circumstances. It charts a path forward for UAA that would prevent financial waste and guarantee transparency for students.

The Board of Regents recently convened to debate the future of the School of Education. There weren’t many options available. They could keep the school open and pursue reaccreditation, which could take up to three years. USUAA Student Government supported that option. The second option was fully teaching out the unaccredited programs until the last student is graduated in three years. The third option, Johnsen’s recommendation, would shutter the programs by Aug. 31 of this year.

Keeping the School of Education open and pursuing reaccreditation sounds inspiring. It feels like UAA could restore everything back to normal and put this whole debacle in the past. But it just isn’t realistic. Pursuing reaccreditation is a lengthy and costly process, one which would be difficult for Johnsen to justify to the state when the governor is activity pursuing spending reductions. In a memo, Johnsen specified that reaccreditation would require around $139,000 for consultants, an assessment coordinator and accreditor training.

All of that money spent doesn’t even guarantee reaccreditation. The relevant accrediting agency, the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, is profoundly out-of-touch with the students and faculty that it condemns. UAA could go through the whole reaccreditation process, all while teaching education students and accepting new ones, only to have CAEP suddenly reject us again in the 2020s. No student should have to go through college knowing that their licensure may or may not be valid upon graduation.

The second option, teaching out the programs, has even more problems. This process would not accept any new students, but just keep the School of Education open until the last student graduates. Although this option doesn’t pursue reaccreditation, it has plenty of cringe-worthy expenses itself. The school would effectively become mothballed over time, which describes a condition where assets (faculty, equipment, buildings, contracts) are paid for even as the whole program gradually slips further into disuse. Mothballing is typically a recipe for financial waste. It means investing in something that doesn’t have a future. Additionally, there is too much uncertainty to tolerate. There is no guarantee that faculty would want to keep working a job that will end when the last student graduates, transfers or drops out. It is also unclear as to what student would knowingly continue through an unaccredited program that is not seeking reaccreditation.

So we arrive at the third option: close the programs in the School of Education. It hurts, but there’s no better way forward. Closure would save about $500,000 annually, according to Johnsen. Money isn’t the only consideration, though. This plan would also provide education students in the Anchorage area with a confident path towards licensure, albeit outside of UAA. UAF and UAS both have accredited education programs of their own, and they possess the ability to offer classes in Anchorage. Some of these classes may be online, and others may even utilize the faculty that formerly worked in UAA’s shuttered School of Education.

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Above all, UAA needs to be fully transparent with its students. Closing the unaccredited programs is unambiguous. It ensures that UAA will not be collecting tuition from students on an uncertain promise of future licensure. If the university is going to take anyone’s money, then it can only justifiably do so when it can guarantee its end of the bargain: a legitimate tool for career success. The School of Education can’t make that guarantee now, so its closure is the best path forward.