Last month a report about the University of Alaska reported that UA is a major economic engine in Alaska. It reported that UA has a very low graduation rate. It reported that students like their professors, but hate their food and parking options.
Most students would agree with these statements, perhaps only adding one word: Duh.
Beyond the seemingly obvious points, there were deeper issues addressed in the report, which was produced at the request of UA’s Board of Regents and written by Dr. James L. Fisher, a nationally known psychologist, professor and author. Fisher, along with several colleagues, assessed the condition of UA, identified issues that affect UA and also provided suggestions to improve UA.
According to the report, the different campuses of UA all have different general education requirements. Those requirements should be the same university wide, suggested Fisher.
But the report went on to suggest new general education requirements including a computer literacy course that teaches specific software programs and Internet searching techniques. Ben Farleigh, an undeclared UAA student, said he had taken a basic computer course and found it to be a waste of time.
“If it was a general ed requirement it would need to be more in depth, not just the basics because everyone knows the basics,” Farleigh said.
Also recommended was a demonstrated competency in a non-English language or culture. Reasoning for this requirement stemmed from the rise in non-English language and culture statewide.
“The first language of more than one-quarter of all new elementary school students in California is Spanish. In Alaska, approximately fifteen percent of the population speaks a language other than English at the dinner table,” wrote Fisher. “Both the understanding of UA students and their employability will increase if they acquire facility with a non- English language at the second-year collegiate level. We recommend that UA introduce such a requirement.”
Many students already fulfill this requirement either voluntarily or through separate college requirements.
Another recommendation called for increasing the amount of the technology fee in order to add more “smart classrooms,” which include options like Internet access, projectors and smart boards.
“In my high school we used smart boards and they were just really annoying and expensive,” said geology major Calen Roesing.
With the current apathy toward tuition and fee increases, this particular increase proposal might meet with little obstacle.
“What’s $5 on top of six grand?” said Farleigh of a possible fee increase.
One of the biggest issues addressed in the report was the tension between UAF and UAA, calling it the ten-ton guerrilla in the room. Which is putting it lightly.
“It’s not tension, it’s more like a full fledged hatred,” said Farleigh, adding that he learned his UAF rivalry from his dad.
Dividing the campuses are issues such as funding, expansion, research facilities among other things. The report quotes one prominent Anchorage official on the issue.
“What made sense 100 years ago doesn’t necessarily make sense now,” said the unnamed source.
Yet the report also cautions that many of those who were interviewed believe Anchorage, in general, already receives too much time, attention and authority, especially considering that it does not represent the real Alaska.
One solution offered was to allow the different campuses to develop specific and different areas of expertise and focus. The report went on to say that if UA does not address the issue, recognition for its academic and doctoral research achievements would only achieve mediocrity.
Beyond the rivalry, the report also observed that students were most dissatisfied with their food and parking options as well as their financial aid assistance. Fisher noted that this is likely the cause of low graduation rates. These observations are in tune with popular student opinion and have been the subject of many student complaints, especially concerning financial aid assistance.
“They need to go to each student individually and then talk to them because I didn’t even know about how to go to financial aid,” Farleigh said. “They’re just not being aggressive enough.”
Beyond the problems and complaints found, the report issued rave reviews for UA’s website as well as the academic performance of athletes, who typically perform better than conventional students. Also gaining high praise was the Alaska Scholars program.
Notably missing from the report was mention of student life and activities. Many students see room for improvement for student socialization and interaction on campus.
“It seems like UAA promotes more privacy,” said UA Scholar recipient Chandler Porter, noting how quiet the student union and dorms often are. “They’re promoting, like, a less social atmosphere.”
Other than a few glaring issues, the report seemed to echo popular student sentiment, as Farleigh concluded.
“The academics here aren’t bad, I like all of my teachers, I like all the classes I’m in. I just don’t like the lack of student interaction and activities for students to do,” he said.