The Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges stamped UAA with its 10-year seal of approval by reaffirming the university's accreditation through the year 2010.
The accreditation team visited UAA in early October and left a positive appraisal of the institution, but the official word finally reached UAA Chancellor Lee Gorsuch last week. Much has improved in the past decade, according to the chancellor.
“Ten years ago, the emphasis was `how do we make this all work,'” said Gorsuch. “ Back then it was still about working out the basics of the merger [between the university and the community college]. Now we're focusing on quality. We're a much more integrated university now.”
The commission praised UAA for its overall high energy and morale, citing excellence in the residence halls, dining facilities and the library. They also commended the university for retaining Alaskan students through the Honors and UA Scholars programs.
The accreditors made recommendations for improvement in some areas, specifically science laboratory space, general education requirements and distance education.
A self-study conducted by the university prior to the visit revealed the same findings, and actions are being taken.
“We're well aware of the fact that we're terribly short on lab space in the science department,” said Gorsuch. A budget request to expand the labs has been submitted to the state legislature and is pending approval.
General education requirements are likely to change to meet a broader perspective of learning.
“The world is becoming much more global,” said Gorsuch. “Everybody should come out with a better world understanding.”
Gorsuch expects his 17-point plan, entitled “UAA 2005” to make this school a “university of first choice” for college-bound students in the Pacific Northwest.
“My initial emphasis was beds, books and computers,” said Gorsuch, outlining his plan to create a residence life atmosphere, upgrade the library and bring the school up to speed technologically. “Those three we hit right out of the park. Now we need to chart the next five years.”
Gorsuch emphasized a need to balance quality education with making students marketable outside the university.
“Our goal is that our graduates are equally prepared as students from other institutions,” said Gorsuch. “Most institutions try to get there by being more selective. We have open enrollment to give everybody an opportunity to excel.”
Job markets in Alaska have pushed UAA to expand programs for nursing, rural education and special education.
“We want to be a part of the community and respond to its needs,” said Gorsuch.
Still, he cautioned that a university should not be limited to demands of the job market.
“You want to have an educated population, not just a trained population,” said the chancellor.
Gorsuch identified his plan to achieve a blend of education and job preparation.
Step one is to add a broader variety of baccalaureate degrees.
“We have to build enough support to offer more programs in areas where there is a clear need and justification,” he said.
The chancellor said that students can expect to see undergraduate programs in liberal studies, North Pacific Rim studies and elementary education.
The next measure is to add a depth of courses. UAA currently has no doctorate programs, meaning that Alaskans must travel Outside to obtain a post-graduate degree.
The final aspect of developing the university is ensuring quality before implementing a program.
“If you have to trade off between quality and diversity, you've lost the game,” said Gorsuch.
In a Jan. 11 press release, Gorsuch stated that all recommendations from the accreditation team will be satisfied within one year.