UAA chancellor challenges ‘myths’ about university

Tuesday, February 26, 2019 - 14:24
  • UAA chancellor Dr. Cathy Sandeen speaks to the Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce during its biweekly lunch forum on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019 at the Matanuska Brewing Company in Eagle River. (Matt Tunseth / Chugiak-Eagle River Star)

University of Alaska Anchorage chancellor Cathy Sandeen may have been searching for friendly confines last week when she stopped by Eagle River, where her university’s struggling hockey team is uncharacteristically unbeaten this season.

Sandeen used her visit to the Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce to promote UAA, which she said has gotten a bad rap due to “myths” about the largest campus in the University of Alaska system. Among them: that UAA lost its accreditation, that the school’s graduation rate lags far behind similar universities and that UAA students are just like any others across the nation.

“There’s been some misconceptions out there,” she said during the chamber’s biweekly lunch forum at the Matanuska Brewing Company in downtown Eagle River.

Sandeen said the university did lose accreditation for several specialized degrees within its School of Education, but the issue impacted just 250 of the school’s nearly 18,000 students.

“It’s a small fraction,” she said.

Sandeen told the chamber the school’s graduation rate has also gotten a bad rap. Although UAA’s five-year graduation rate is lower than comparable schools, she said when timeframes are drawn out the school actually comes close to achieving graduation rates the same as its peers. That’s due to the school’s unique student body, which she said is older and works more than their counterparts Outside.

“They don’t necessarily have that luxury of going to school full-time for four to five years,” she said.

Another myth about the school’s Anchorage campus is that it’s disconnected from the rest of the city. On the contrary, Sandeen said, UAA has been certified as a Community Engagement university by the Carnegie Foundation and the school’s students go on to live and work in Anchorage.

“We are every bit a major metro community connected campus,” she said.

When an audience member pressed Sandeen by saying her company has seen less involvement from UAA students in recent years, Sandeen said the school is working to become more involved through its Center for Community Engagement and Learning.

“We’re working on beefing that up,” she said.

Sandeen also addressed a looming financial shortfall that could be caused if Legislators enact a 40 percent reduction in state university spending proposed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy — a cut of more than 17 percent of the university system’s entire budget. She said she’s hopeful tuition cuts won’t be necessary but acknowledged there could be difficult decisions on the horizon.

“We’re kind of on pins and needles,” she said. “We’ll do our best.”

Sandeen finished her speech by reaffirming the university’s commitment to Chugiak-Eagle River, which in addition to being home to the McDonald Center (where the Seawolves 4-26-3 hockey team defeated Simon Fraser 5-1 in September) is also where UAA’s Chugiak-Eagle River Campus and the university supported Alaska Middle College are located.

“We will have a presence in Eagle River,” she said — though she acknowledged budget cuts could mean “scaled back” programs at the university’s building at the intersection of Artillery Road and Eagle River Road.

“I can’t necessarily commit to that full building but we will have a presence in Chugiak-Eagle River.”

Email Star editor Matt Tunseth at [email protected] or call 257-4274.

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