Mining in Alaska is important to the world. If we look at where we are right now with critical minerals we are completely dependent on China. And we have the capacity and capability to change that global narrative through the universities with industry here in Alaska. The focus right now is on the green energy transition. Research conducted at the University of Alaska Anchorage is addressing conventional methods of extraction of critical minerals and other metals. This gives operating mines and upcoming mines the tools they need to be able to extract responsibly.
UAA’s School of Social Work was awarded a $1.5 million grant to significantly increase enrollment capacity, establish a pathway to licensure for graduates, add faculty and staffing, and offer continuing education to maintain clinical licenses. The grant was coordinated by Recover Alaska and includes direct funding from Recover Alaska and public and private partners, including Rasmuson Foundation, Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alaska, Providence Alaska, Southcentral Foundation, the Anchorage Assembly, Alaska Department of Health and the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority.
In response to industry needs and workforce shortages, UAA will expand its Bachelor of Science in Nursing program. This will allow the university to accept 40% more students who are interested in pursuing a four-year degree in nursing.
“The pandemic has definitely made some permanent changes to not only our economy and the United States’ economy but the world’s economy,” said University of Alaska Anchorage Provost Denise Runge. “It’s not entirely clear what all of those changes are, but we do know that the process of education and training actually does better prepare you as an individual to be adaptable.”
And education doesn’t have to mean a college degree. For White and many other Alaskans trying to turn pandemic setbacks into silver linings, one-year career certificate programs may hold the key — and thanks to a partnership between UAA and the Municipality of Anchorage, these programs are financially within reach for more students than ever before.
On the Fast Track to better jobs
In late spring 2020, just as UAA was coming to the end of a spring semester that had been disrupted by the onset of the global pandemic, the chancellor at the time approached Runge with a challenge: She wanted Runge to co-chair a committee tasked with creating new programs to help Alaskans train for new careers — and quickly.
“She said, ‘Because of this pandemic, people are losing their jobs, they may need to train for a new career or upskill, and this is a good time to do it,’” Runge said.
Runge’s team sprang into action, working with faculty to rapidly identify programs and map out courses of study that followed two simple rules.
“No. 1, you had to be able to finish the program in a year,” said Runge, who was then serving as dean of UAA’s Community and Technical College. “No. 2, the programs had to be created out of things that we already do. That was the most important thing to me at the time as a dean, because I knew we didn’t have any extra money.”
By the time enrollment opened for the fall, UAA had created more than a dozen new Fast Track Career Certificates, all based on existing course options, designed to be completed within a year with no prerequisite work required. Students who complete Fast Track programs (in subjects as diverse as bookkeeping, phlebotomy, welding, IT help desk assistance, business and culinary arts, with more added in 2021) receive an occupational endorsement certificate, or OEC, that can give them a boost in the job market. OEC credits are also “stackable,” meaning a student who has earned an OEC can continue their education, applying the credit hours toward an associate or bachelor’s degree.
But to take advantage of the Fast Track program, students had to be able to afford it. That’s where the Municipality of Anchorage comes in.
An unusual partnership
Not long after Fast Track launched, the municipality granted UAA $3.1 million of its federal American Rescue Plan Act funds to administer scholarships to certificate-seeking students from the Anchorage area who have experienced unemployment since March 2020 or are economically disadvantaged. Eligible applicants may receive up to $9,000 for tuition, and as much as $9,000 more to cover living and other related expenses, including childcare.
Last fall, UAA announced its Fast Track Certificate program. This year, the Municipality of Anchorage has collaborated with the university with a $3 million American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) grant that broadens the scope of the Fast Track program.
The ARPA grant provides funds for 30 lower-division credit hours of a one-year occupational endorsement certificate program from UAA or qualifying program within the MOA and the associated costs up to $9,000, including living expenses, with a maximum award of $18,000 per individual.