Strategic Pathways: A path of uncertainty

What focuses will be offered at each University of Alaska school under the Board of Regent's Strategic Pathways. Photo credit: Jian Bautista

In the times of falling oil prices and a state budget crisis, the University of Alaska system, a system that relies heavily on state aid, is rethinking the framework of their universities. President of the UA system, Jim Johnsen proposed Strategic Pathways as a money saving plan to restructure the UA system to focus each home school on their specific strong points. This could mean programs lost at each school to be streamlined to another school, or possibly programs lost all together.

A loose list of strong programs was created by President Johnsen based on the strengths of each University. Programs related to health sciences are being proposed to be streamlined throughout the state to the University of Alaska Anchorage campus. While natural and physical science programs may be relocated to the University of Fairbanks campus, and the University of Southeast becomes marine science oriented.

After reviewing the framework of Strategic Pathways President Johnson provided for the public, 21 year old Madeline Neel, a natural sciences student at UAA, began to worry about her stance as a UA student.

“I didn’t know about this. Is it actually going to go through? This all just sounds ridiculous,” Neel said. “If that happens, I don’t know what I’ll do. If science classes are provided in Juneau, then I would go there or transfer to APU, but maybe move to another state. I’ve never been interested in living in Fairbanks, not to mention I would have to move my whole life. I feel like this is going to ruin my life.”

Liberal art majors’ fear not, in the presentation given by President Johnsen to the Board of Regents on Feb. 16, it guarantees that programs under the umbrella of liberal arts and humanities, career and technical education, Alaska Native studies and developmental education will be available in schools across the state.

The framework and details of strategic pathways is lacking and is vague at this point. It is unknown at this time when programs will be chosen for streamlining or cutting. Johnsen emphasized in a teleconference that the timeliness of the Strategic Pathways is correlated with the state’s budget.

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“We would be required, just on a budgetary standpoint to really move forward much more quickly and make much more dramatic budget reduction decisions and would need to do them much sooner, than later,” Johnsen said.

While students and faculty are concerned with cuts to programs, the UA system is looking to save money in other ways.

“Strategic Pathways will be implemented in phases over the course of several years, and although the focus is primarily on academic programs, the university is working to reduce costs by streamlining processes and administrative services,” Roberta Graham, associate vice president of public affairs and federal relations for the UA system, said.

For Tess Calvin, medical laboratory science major at UAA, moving from her hometown of Sitka to Anchorage was necessary to get the health science education she needed to reach her career goals.

“While I love Sitka, I definitely needed to leave for my studies. I think for medicine it definitely is important for it to be in Anchorage because that’s where the big hospitals are concentrated,” said Calvin. “We have to do two semesters of clinical rotations and because we’re in Anchorage a lot of people can do it all in town. Smaller places just don’t have the diversity of facilities necessary. Specializing campuses totally makes sense for some fields, like health in Anchorage and marine sciences at UAS. I’m not so sure about trying to force all the natural sciences and engineering to UAF though, since those tie into a lot of fields it’s important to have access to them at both the major campuses. So collaboration is important and easy to do when we don’t specialize as much. But we do need to do some focusing. Right now UAA is kind of a cluster-fuck.”

For students and faculty interested in participating in the progress of Strategic Pathways, Johnsen and the Board of Regents are hosting multiple events in the future to get students and staff involved in the decision making processes.

“It’s important to note that Strategic Pathways is a work in progress and that the aforementioned university stakeholders, including alumni and donors, will have extensive opportunities to participate,” said Graham.

More information about the structure and goals of Strategic Pathways and updates on further events and ways to get involved can be found on the Strategic Pathways website.