University President Highlights Goals and Success Stories in State of the University Address
March 4, 2022
In her first State of the University address since being appointed president of the University of Alaska System, Pat Pitney outlined her long-term goals, shared alumni, faculty and student success stories and reiterated the importance of the university system to the Arctic and to Alaska’s economic future. The speech was delivered during the March 3 Juneau Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
Pitney told the virtual and in-person audience that Alaskans overwhelmingly agree that a degree and job training credential is more important now than ever.
“A stark reality is that last March, as the U.S. was emerging from COVID the first time, the overall economy added - in one month - 916,000 jobs,” she said. “Only 7,000 went to workers with only a high school diploma. That is, less than 1 percent of the jobs added back went to workers without a college credential.”
She added: “Our universities and community campuses offer high-quality degree and training programs. More importantly, employers want UA graduates because they are, first and foremost, highly-qualified, and they stay and contribute to the local community and the state. Our graduates are engaged citizens interested in creating the best Alaska for our children and grandchildren.”
Pitney focused her remarks on the key areas that will command her attention in the coming years:
- Increasing student enrollment leading to jobs
- Developing workforce and focused economic development initiatives
- Promoting Arctic policy, research and leadership
- Strengthening Teacher Education programs
- Advancing the Alaska Native Success Initiative
- Building finance industry partnerships to expand Alaska business workforce
- Increasing Fisheries and Ocean Sciences presence in Southeast Alaska
- Revising our business models for efficiency and modernization
Pitney highlighted the successes of faculty, students, and alumni across the entire system including John Walsh, who earned a Mohn Prize for excellence in Arctic research; Charlie Detelich, a UAA alumna working for NASA’s Europa Clipper mission; Seawolf skiers JC Schoonmaker and Hailey Swirbul who represented the U.S. in the Beijing Winter Olympics; and, the recent successes of the Seawolf debate team in national and league competitions.
She also praised university researchers, who maintained and increased the level of nationally competitive research funding amid the challenges of the past several years.
“The depth of expertise keeps us in the perfect position to remain competitive given national priorities,” Pitney said. “The Arctic offers tremendous opportunity and Alaska has to own it.”
Regarding enrollment, Pitney said the key to increasing enrollment is promoting the value of higher education and the role it plays in Alaska’s economy. Noting that Alaska’s working age population is down 30,000, she said the potential job growth related to Federal infrastructure spending will add an estimated 10,000 - 14,000 positions that will need to be filled.
“Our universities are well-positioned to prepare Alaskans for those jobs,” she said. “Many of the university system’s workforce programs lead to valuable career options, such as the process technology programs whose graduates earn more than $135,000 within five years of graduating. On average, a post-secondary degree increases annual wages by more than $20,000, up to an average increase of $40,000 for a professional degree, over a high school education alone.”
Pitney highlighted efforts to make college more affordable for Alaskans, including increasing the amount of scholarships and aid available, protecting the Higher Education Investment Fund for scholarship programs, providing more opportunities for high school students to earn credit through middle colleges, and encouraging more Alaskans to apply for Federal Student Aid.
“The availability of federal financial aid is Alaska’s biggest untapped financial resource for higher education. To be eligible for federal financial aid and other sources, a student is required to fill out a FAFSA - Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Unfortunately, Alaska’s FAFSA completion rate is the lowest in the nation, which means thousands of students or potential students are missing out on scholarships or financial aid support. If Alaskans filled out the FASFA form at the average national rate our students would have $8 million more to pay for their higher education.”
Highlighting the importance of college affordability, she concluded with optimism
for the university’s future: “We're re-creating ourselves at a smaller, more focused
footprint - having prioritized and maintained the solid foundation of quality academic
programs aligned with the highest demand jobs in our state. We have the ability to
grow enrollment and create remarkable student experiences, as well as leverage our
research capacity to support our economic opportunities to come.”