High school seniors state their opinions of UA

Expect to see some new advertising campaigns and bombardments of information about the University of Alaska. UA is out to combat its image of a collection of mediocre campuses in cold, urban and ghetto settings that don’t offer quality programs or diverse experiences for their students.

Think these are harsh criticisms? These were actual responses from Alaska high school seniors in a recent study conducted by UA.

The UA system initiated the study with the national college consulting firm of Noel-Levitz. Telephone surveys were conducted with 284 college-bound Alaska high school seniors to understand more about their process of selecting colleges and why so many choose to leave the state for their education.

The study was precipitated by two glaring statistics UA already knew: Alaska is below the national average in high school graduates going to college in the fall of their graduation year – 45 percent vs. 65 percent nationally. Of those who go to college, 50 percent leave Alaska, compared to 33 percent nationally.

All in all, the survey result generally underlined areas the university knows need attention.

“I don’t think there are many surprises in here,” Mike Sfraga, associate vice president of student services and enrollment management for UA, said.

Sfraga interpreted the results to reveal that college-bound students question the number and breadth of academic programs offered at the university. Of the students surveyed, 49 percent believe the quality of colleges and universities in Alaska is not as good as found in other states, 53 percent said they plan to find career opportunities outside the state and 55 percent considered leaving the state necessary for growth and experiences.

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The survey also revealed that college-bound Alaskans are less sophisticated than most of the nation in preparing for and researching educational options. The results affirmed a general confusion over finance options and entrance exams.

With the results only days old, Sfraga said the university has yet to formally sit down and develop recommendations to address the findings. However, he preliminarily spoke about endless possibilities to inform more prospective students of the assets of UA, primarily through the Web.

He outlined the capabilities the statewide system has to generate and distribute information about the various campuses. Sfraga said his office can create Web sites with financial aid information, student loan interest matrixes, links that show students how people in their future career field are currently fairing in the job market and extensive information on degrees and programs. From that point, it is up to the individual campuses to develop the actual educational relationship with the students and reel them in.

“The campus is the place it happens. The system is the place it is packaged,” Sfraga said.

UAA’s associate dean of students, Bruce Schultz, views the survey as an opportunity to expand the university’s outreach effort to prospective students. He said in the past, the university leaned toward a “default mentality” and addressed students’ needs only once they arrived instead of assisting in the preparation period of applying for financial aid and exploring program options.

“Now, by the time they reach the university they have their ducks in a row,” Schultz said.

On the other hand, Paul Kraft, dean of student and enrollment services at University of Alaska Southeast, plans on focusing his attention on first point of contact knowledge about the university. The survey revealed that when asked to describe UAS in their own words, 72 percent responded “don’t know.”

“They don’t even know enough to say they don’t want to come here,” Kraft said.

Other findings deal with things beyond Sfraga’s control. When respondents were asked their main reason for attending an out-of-state school, 34 percent said for a change, to see something different and to get away from home. Eight percent said for a warmer climate.

“We can’t change the weather,” Sfraga said.