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Reengaging the University:
A Case Study of the University of Alaska, 1998-2002

James R. Johnsen
Chief of Staff
University of Alaska System
202 Butrovich Building
Fairbanks, Alaska 99775

Prepared while in residence as
Visiting Scholar
Center for Studies in Higher Education
University of California Berkeley

May 3, 2002


A work in progress, this paper describes the steps taken by the University of Alaska System to be more responsive, to become more engaged with the needs and interests of its state. After setting out the context of the university's history and current structure along with a discussion of the extent to which the university has been disengaged with the state and the reasons for this condition, the paper begins an evaluation of the recent Alaska experience based on analytical tools derived from the higher education literature. This project will contribute to the store of case studies of change in American higher education, which should be of interest to university administrators and to students of higher education.


In the years running up to and now past the millennium, the higher education literature has once again taken up the challenge of the role or purpose of public colleges and universities, this time in a rapidly changing technological, economic, and demographic environment. A veritable raft of articles, chapters, and books review the changing external pressures on public higher education, explore the internal factors that alternatively constrain and enable responding to those pressures, and begin to prescribe steps that these institutions should take in order to be more responsive, more aligned, more accountable, and more engaged to and with the society these institutions are intended to serve. Notable about this literature, however, is the paucity of case studies of change in higher education (Clark, 2001). This is most especially true for case studies that are not, or at least attempt not be, self-serving celebrations of the implementation of some or other management fad (Birnbaum, 2000). Further, it has been suggested that additional research be conducted on the structures and processes of institutional adaptation, or change, in higher education, particularly with an eye toward the extent to which adaptation was "implemented through joint activities of administration and faculty" (Gumport and Sporn, 1999).

Before moving too far into this paper, it is appropriate to define a few terms that are key to this study. First, by the term "university" I mean a university system, in this case the University of Alaska System, which I will describe in some detail in a moment. Second, by the term "reengaging," in broad terms, I mean the extent to which the higher education system of a state is embraced and supported by that state, and the extent to which the university serves the various needs of the state. To get at it with somewhat more focus, I pose such questions as the following:

  • What portion of the state's college bound young people attend their state university?
  • What level of support, political and financial, does the state's university have from the legislature, from local governments, from the governor and state agencies, from the congressional delegation and federal agencies, and from employers?
  • To what extent do alumni support the institution, politically and financially?
  • To what extent does the university meet the state's needs for the preparation of teachers, health care workers, engineers, and other professions and occupations?
  • How effectively does the university system meet continuing education needs in the professions and in rapidly developing sectors of the economy?

Third, if an assumption of all this writing about the challenges facing public higher education in the 21st century is correct, that to some extent and in various respects universities are unresponsive, unaligned, unaccountable, and disengaged with the societies they serve, it might make sense to explore a particular university that I will argue was particularly disengaged and that, recognizing this condition, has taken steps to reengage. The relatively small size of the institution together with its large breadth of mission, its distance from trends in higher education together with its recent innovations, all in the context of a unique (perhaps) political culture and economic history, make the University of Alaska an interesting and, I believe, relevant case study. It is also convenient that my administrative role provides familiarity with the case. At the same time, however, this familiarity raises issues of objectivity common in academic work by participant-observers; I attempt to be aware of and control for these issues in this project.

The structure of this study is based in part on Clark's admonition that analysis of change must begin with how the system works, then how change is conditioned by the system (Clark, 1983). It is also informed by Gade's model in which analyses of multicampus systems must consider a variety of dimensions including communication and culture, centralization and decentralization, coordination and control, and cooperation and competition (Gade, 1993). So, after introducing you to the University of Alaska, I take up the question how and why, in my view, it was so disengaged. I then explore, at a general level, what the University of Alaska System has done since 1998 to reengage itself with its state. Here, I necessarily focus on just a few areas of effort, unfortunately at the expense of numerous other examples of progress. I then close with the beginning of an evaluation of the recent Alaska experience based on analytical tools derived from the higher education literature.

The University of Alaska

Historical Background
The University of Alaska was founded by Act of Congress in 1917 as the Alaska School of Agriculture and Mining. The original campus was in College, just outside Fairbanks in what was at that time a very active mining district. Gradually after statehood, which came only in 1959 and which did provide for some degree of constitutional autonomy for the university, two campuses were formed in Anchorage, by then the largest city in the state, a small four-year campus and a community college. Through the 1970s, as oil revenues began to flow and then flood the state, a new four-year campus was created in Juneau, and a dozen community colleges were built from Ketchikan in the southeast panhandle of the state to Kotzebue above the Arctic Circle in northwest Alaska.

In 1986, Alaska suffered a strong economic shock resulting from the state's reliance on oil taxes and royalties for 85 percent of its revenues and the fall in world oil prices from around $28 per barrel in January 1986 to just under $10 per barrel in August of that same year. The state's operating budget was halved in one year. At the time, the university relied on the state general fund for over 55 percent of its total operating revenues. In the fall of 1986, the university's budget allocation from the legislature was cut by 15 percent and then held constant (in nominal terms) through 1998. In response to this fiscal crisis, the university's Board of Regents restructured the formerly loose confederation of colleges and universities into one system led by a president. Reporting to the president are the heads (chancellors) of the three "major" campuses in Fairbanks, Juneau, and Anchorage with the former community colleges reporting through these three campuses. All public higher education in Alaska is in this system (Rogers and Gaylord, 1988).

The University Today
As of the fall semester 2001, the University of Alaska System employs 1,060 regular faculty (all unionized) and 2,613 regular staff (only 250 of whom are represented by a union). There are 30,625 students, 60 percent of whom are enrolled through Anchorage, 27 percent through Fairbanks, and 13 percent through Juneau. 67 percent of the university’s students attend part-time (UA in Review, 2002).

The Anchorage campus is an urban comprehensive university with degree programs ranging from associates to masters in applied fields such as business, nursing, teacher education, engineering, and global transportation logistics. UA Anchorage provides the first year of medical school training to Alaskans participating in a consortium of northwestern states led by the University of Washington Medical School, leads outreach to the state’s several military communities, and has several research institutes, most notably the Institute for Social and Economic Research, the state’s Small Business Development Center, and a very active program providing business education to students in Russia. The campus has several NCAA Division II athletics programs and its debate team recently won the national championship. Part of UA Anchorage are the community campuses in Kenai, Kodiak, Palmer, and Valdez.

The Fairbanks campus is a research intensive university with degree programs ranging from associates to doctorate, the latter in fields closely related to its geographic location and research strengths (e.g., arctic biology, geophysics, marine science, arctic engineering). The Fairbanks campus had research revenues in fiscal year 2002 in excess of $90 million, about 91 percent of the system total. It is the home of numerous research institutes including the Geophysical Institute (with the nation’s only university rocket range), the Institute for Arctic Biology, the School of Fisheries and Ocean Science, the International Arctic Research Center, and the Arctic Region Supercomputing Center. Like UA Anchorage, UA Fairbanks participates in NCAA Division II athletics and boasts the nation’s top rifle team over the last three years. Part of UA Fairbanks are community campuses in Bethel, Dillingham, Fairbanks, Interior Aleutians, Kotzebue, and Nome.

The Juneau campus is a small baccalaureate college with emphases on teacher education, distance education, environmental science, and information technology. Current and emerging research focus areas include fisheries/marine science, distance education, and government. The Juneau campus collaborates with Middlebury College in offering a Breadloaf summer program and has developed extensive training programs in public administration, taking advantage of its location in the state’s capital city. Part of UA Southeast are community campuses in Ketchikan and Sitka.

Each of the three major campuses has its own institutional accreditation and is led by a chancellor who reports to the president of the university system, who in turn reports to the Board of Regents. The Board has eleven members, not including the university president who is an ex-officio member, with eight-year appointments. Regents are nominated by the governor and ratified by the legislature. Administrators reporting to the president include the chancellors as well the university’s executives in the areas of finance, university relations, research, information technology, legal counsel, and human resources. The absence of a provost/chief academic officer as well as a chief student affairs administrator should be noted. The former role, typically found in university system offices, is only partly filled by a council comprised of the provosts of the Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau campuses and by system office staff. The latter role is partly filled by staff in the system office.

Relations between the campuses and the system office are perhaps best characterized by their "predictable tensions," a term often used by the university's current president, about whom more will be said below. Whereas the system does not deliver any academic degrees or certificates, direct any research programs, or engage in any public service per se, it plays important internal coordinating and external advocacy roles. As well, it provides a set of services to the campuses that are not replicated at that level of the system. Examples of the coordinating function include overseeing the academic initiative process described in more detail below, articulating course credits for students transferring between campuses, linking the university's training programs with large statewide employers, encouraging collaborative research and instructional programs across campuses, and development of the annual operating and capital budgets as well as the university's federal initiatives. Examples of the advocacy function include directing the university's annual drives for funding from the state legislature and the Congress, and ongoing efforts to enhance the image of the university with the public of the state. Examples of direct services provided by the system to the campuses include management of the privately funded University of Alaska Foundation, certain aspects of the human resources and labor relations functions, legal counsel, numerous financial services including the accounting system, audit, relations with and staff support for the Board of Regents, information technology networks, and student information system services. The tensions noted briefly above arise in the areas where the system office takes the lead, but they are especially strong where the system office and the campuses both have interests, responsibilities, and staff. The recent planning for the construction of bioscience research facilities at the Anchorage and Fairbanks campuses has involved substantial tension between the system and the campuses due to concerns in the system that the campuses did not have adequate resources for effective planning and development of the facilities while the campuses expressed concern about system office meddling in campus affairs. The management of the university’s information technology network has seen conflict between system office staff with an interest in statewide consistency and the campuses with interests in greater flexibility and autonomy. The academic initiative process has been led by the system office with interests in responsiveness to state needs, appropriateness of initiatives to campus missions, and accountability for the use of state funds; the campuses stress that they have the expertise and responsibility to develop and deliver academic programs. Finally, this short list of examples concludes with labor relations, where the faculty teach, conduct their research, and perform public service at the campuses while the employer to which the bargaining units are certified is the statewide system and the terms of their collective bargaining agreements are negotiated by system office staff.

A description of the university would not be complete without noting the absence in Alaska of a state master plan for higher education, as is present in many states, most notably California; a statewide postsecondary education commission with regulatory or even advisory authority over the university, or even the capability to conduct analyses of major trends in or affecting higher education; or a legislative committee with express jurisdiction over the university.

Before attempting to explain how and why, in my estimation, the University of Alaska was so disengaged, let me share a few indicators:

  • The University of Alaska system has the lowest capture rate of college bound high school graduates of any state in the nation. In 2001, only 33 percent of college freshman who graduated from an Alaska high school attended college in Alaska. This contrasts with California at 91 percent and another cold, dark, northern state, North Dakota at 84 percent (The Chronicle of Higher Education Almanac Issue, 2001-2002).
  • Between 1986 and 1998, the state's contribution to higher education funding rose just 2 percent, in nominal terms, compared with a national average of 42 percent and 57 percent on average in the three other oil dependent states (UA in Review, 2002).
  • Alaska is the only state in the nation without a state funded merit or need-based financial aid program for post-secondary students.
  • Alaska receives less NIH funding for research than any other state, even though the state leads the nation in such ignoble conditions as fetal alcohol syndrome and teen suicide.
  • The share of Alaska's K-12 teachers produced by Alaskan colleges is the lowest in the nation, 33 percent.
  • There is more research done in Alaska by "outside" investigators than by investigators from Alaskan institutions.

Alaska experiences this condition despite the strong tendency for college students in overwhelming numbers to attend colleges and universities in relatively close proximity to their high school; the university's tuition and fees are among the lowest in the nation (resident tuition is $2,740 per year); and the state is so wealthy it has no state held bonded indebtedness, there are no state personal taxes (either sales or income), and each resident receives an annual dividend of nearly $2,000 from the Alaska Permanent Fund, a publicly owned savings account with a current balance of approximately $25 billion.

The reasons for this extent of disengagement can be found from several sources. The first half of the university's life was spent in a federal territory and the second half in a state where 80 percent of the land and resources are owned by the federal government and Native corporations established by the federal government. So, during this "federal era" the majority of skilled professionals (teachers, nurses, physicians, lawyers, and engineers) who make up the workforce and in turn the political support in a state for its university, were either trained by federal agencies (e.g., Bureau of Indian Affairs), religious missionaries, or most often not trained in Alaska at all but instead, imported from “outside” the state. A related point is that land-grant universities were provided large land grants by Congress (e.g., Morrill, Hatch, and Smith-Lever Acts) to serve as a basis for the university's financial future. While granting the point that the state’s population was and remains relatively small, the University of Alaska's land grant ranks 49th among all states, with Rhode Island coming in last, despite the fact that Alaska's land area is more than twice that of Texas and close to four times that of California. Finally, both the federal and state governments developed research programs and capabilities in Alaska that in other states are typically directed by the university. As a result, the university's competitive research capacity, while very strong in selected areas, is not broad. A sign of this characteristic is the university's Fairbanks campus, which leads the nation in academic earmarks, due in part to the effectiveness of the Alaska's senior senator, Ted Stevens, former chair and now ranking minority member of the appropriations committee. These funds provide research and other services to funding agencies and contribute to the campus' bottom line, but did not always reflect or contribute to the competitive capacity of the faculty.

A second, and not unrelated reason for disengagement, is the nature of the state's economy. First furs, then gold, then fish, then timber, then the military, then tourism, and then oil. The state’s economic history has been one of boom and bust, with the concomitant high turnover of labor. Today, the largest economic sectors in terms of employment are fishing and tourism, both highly seasonal and neither high wage sectors. The largest single employer is the Department of Defense, bringing in personnel for periods generally no more than three years at a time. Notwithstanding several significant training programs, in none of these sectors is there great need or opportunity for university provided education. In the state's most economically powerful industry, oil, the university has produced graduates who have taken administrative and scientific positions in the industry, but the latter tend to be focused on the biological and environmental side of the house, with very few of the high paying engineering professionals coming out of the university. This is despite the fact that the oil companies are very interesting in recruiting qualified graduates of the university and that there are substantial scholarships available for students in mineral and petroleum engineering. Indeed, anecdotally, it appears that Oklahoma University and Texas A&M are more successful preparing this important sector of the workforce than the University of Alaska. As well, though cooperative research programs do exist, they are quite limited and it would appear that the industry conducts more of its research in Oklahoma and Texas than in Alaska. This is an important point, for here in California, most research is conducted by industry; this contributes to opportunities, some quite problematic, to develop major university-industry research collaborations. Whereas in Alaska there is very little research conducted by industry; the university and various federal agencies are the only active research organizations. Finally, since the university has no law school or medical school, while these are often banes to the universities that house them, professionals in these fields typically provide a large portion of a state’s political leadership and the state university's private financial support.

A third reason for disengagement, and arguably most important, is the meager growth in financial support provided to the university from the state legislature. As noted above, the rate of increase in operating budget support for higher education in Alaska was last in the nation during the 1986-1998 period, a period when the other three oil states (Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas) increased public funding by 57 percent, even more in than the national average of 42 percent. So, instead of beginning to invest in the institution that has demonstrated in other parts of the nation its fundamental role in economic development and diversification, the Alaska legislature starved its university. In 2001, the state legislature appropriated only 8 percent of its operating budget for higher education, compared with a national average of 12 percent. The effect has been severe. The system suffered a loss of over 20 percent of its regular faculty, 25 percent of its students, and in real terms over 20 percent of its total operating budget. Perhaps the most insidious and powerful effect of this "time in the desert," as it is often referred to in Alaska, was the absence of the will and the ability to plan for the future, to develop new academic programs, to recruit students, and to generally respond to the changing needs of students and employers.

Finally, I would offer a set of additional conditions that contribute to the extent of disengagement between the University of Alaska and its state. The first is the state’s massive size; transposed onto the continental Untied States, the state would stretch from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Its area comprises 15 percent of the area of the United States. Over half of the nation’s coastline is in Alaska. Related to its size are the distances between its major cities and then the distances out to the rural communities; the most populace city, Anchorage, is 360 miles from the second most populace city, Fairbanks, and the third most populace city, the state’s capital city Juneau, is inaccessible by land. While these cities are reachable by air and are connected via fiber optic cable to the internet, rural communities often are not. This results in a high degree of regionalism and competition between the Anchorage bowl, the Interior, and Southeast, and between these more urban areas and the vast rural parts of the state.

Second, is the state's population. It is small, only 600,000; 300,000 of whom live in the Anchorage area, with 80,000 in the Fairbanks area, and 30,000 in Juneau. The remaining 190,000 people live in 346 communities, 197 of which have fewer than 1,000 residents (ISER, 2001). Among other things, this results in a high degree of "personal politics," where university presidents, governors, and U.S. senators are widely known and are highly accessible.

Third is the state's ethnic composition. While the large majority of the state's population is white (70 percent), the Alaska Native population is 16 percent, and the remainder (African American, Asian American, and others) is 14 percent. Within the Alaska Native population, there are five separate broad ethnic groups (Inuit, Athabascan, Aleut, Tlingit, and Haida) made complex by the not always aligned coexistence of a tribal structure of political governance and a corporate structure of economic organization. These corporations, created by Congress in 1971 in large part to clear the way for construction of the Trans Alaska Pipeline, play an increasingly important role in the state's economy as they collectively own 44 million acres of land, employ 10,000 people, represent one in six of the state’s largest businesses, and have paid out over $1 billion in shareholder dividends (ISER, 2001).

Fourth, is the perhaps paradoxical view of the role of government in which, on the one hand, it is best that governs (and taxes) least, and on the other hand, "Where’s my Permanent Fund check?" Another manifestation of the paradox is, on the one hand, the attitude reflected in the popular bumper sticker "We don't give a damn how they do it outside," and on the other hand, the huge economic dependence of the state on revenues from oil exports and federal government spending on military and other activities in the state, as well as the large role the federal government plays in deciding economic development issues in the state, e.g., opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, constructing a natural gas pipeline from Alaska to the "Lower 48," and developing strategic missile defense facilities at various locations in Alaska (Johnsen and Thomas, 1985).

These reasons for disengagement and conditions which I suggest contribute to it, result in a very serious challenge to the university’s ability to manage itself for the maximum benefit of the state. Whereas in California, by contrast, there are three distinct segments of public sector higher education, each with its own mission, student eligibility criteria, and funding structure. This enables each segment to focus on its mission, to take advantage of the benefits of certain functions being centralized in a system office while others are decentralized on the campuses, and to allow a certain degree of intra-segmental competition. In Alaska all public higher education is in one system with each regional campus responsible for the mission of at least two of the segments (community and vocational education, and applied research and training through the master’s degree) and with aspirations for the third (basic research and training through the doctorate). As a result, I will assert now and argue more fully as this project develops, the University of Alaska is caught in a dilemma. Its challenge to become more "engaged" with the state is constrained by (1) multiple missions being taken up by its campuses, with the result that focus and quality are not maximized, (2) the tremendous diversity of the state along numerous political, social, and economic dimensions, and (3) the resultant inability of the university to take advantage of full centralization or full decentralization, while it suffers the disadvantages of both.

Reengaging the University of Alaska
In the spring of 1998, at the depth of the university's fiscal trough, President Jerome Komisar retired after 8 years leading the university. The Board of Regents commenced a search which resulted in the selection of U.S. Army Major General Mark Hamilton. Hamilton's previous academic experience was limited to serving as an English instructor at the United States Military Academy at West Point, but numerous other experiences and attributes resulted in the search committee's and Regents' interest in him. First, the position from which he retired to come to Alaska was commander of U.S. Army recruiting. To the extent the university recognized the need to increase student enrollment, it was thought his recent experience would be of value. Second, he led for the Joint Chiefs of Staff the first quadrennial defense budget review. To the extent the university needed to review and possibly reform its budget process, Hamilton's experience again seemed relevant. Third, also in his role with the Joint Chiefs, he was the United States' chief negotiator in settling the El Salvadoran civil war and in negotiating the extraction of U.S. armed forces from Somalia. As it was widely perceived that the university system was fraught with intercampus conflict over resources and missions, Hamilton's negotiating and leadership skills were seen as a value. Fourth, since a significant portion of the university’s research revenue comes from the Department of Defense, it was thought Hamilton’s contacts there would be helpful, especially since the national government's push for a land-based missile defense system would likely be based in Alaska. In addition, during his time in military service, Hamilton was posted twice in Alaska, making him known to several members of the Board of Regents and to U.S. Senator Stevens, and providing him a familiarity with the state and its conditions. Finally, Hamilton is a published poet and highly skilled public speaker, attributes which made him an effective candidate for the university’s presidency and have contributed to his success as president.

In the fall of 1998, the university began several major initiatives intended to address its more pressing challenges. But before addressing the specific areas of focus, it is important to note four significant contributions by the new administration. First, Hamilton insisted that the university adopt a set of values that would guide all university decision making and focus all debate. These were unity, access, quality, efficiency, and responsiveness. Subsequently, the Board of Regents adopted, with modifications, these values such that the current set is as follows:

  • Unity in promoting communication and collaboration
  • Accountability to our students, faculty, staff, alumni, and the diverse peoples of Alaska
  • Leadership for Alaska's people and institutions
  • Excellence in our programs and services
  • Accessibility for all Alaskans
  • Dedication to serving community needs
  • Stewardship of our resources

Who maximizes on the values wins. Students of higher education will be quite familiar with this set of values as they have been very much a part of the higher education change agenda over the last decade or so. Second, he introduced a framework for the evaluation of issues and initiatives. This framework included six elements, each of which interacted with the other five. These elements were state needs, students, faculty and staff, academic programs, facilities/information technology, and research. A proposal or other idea must touch on all these elements if it were to be considered for financial or other support. Third, he championed the needs and value of the university in every conceivable forum in the state and insisted that the university would no longer compromise with the legislature over the university's needs. In response to the predictable question from legislators in admittedly very difficult fiscal straits, "And just where do you expect me to find the money?" his response was along the lines of the following, "With all due respect, I appreciate that you have a very difficult job, and I do not pretend to know it well as you do. What I do know, and am here to advocate, are the compelling needs of your university." Last, he introduced a strategy that he referred to as "Back to the Future," which would guide the university's priorities to those primary tasks performed by more "engaged" universities (e.g., contributing to the state's economic and political development through the conduct of relevant research, the preparation and ongoing training of teachers and other professionals, and service to the public).

Following on the general changes described above were several more focused efforts. First among these was the university program to address the student enrollment issue, institution of the Alaska Scholars Program, a full four-year tuition scholarship to all Alaska high school graduates in the top ten percent of their graduating class. The program was, and continues to be funded by earnings of the university's Land Grant Trust. Intended to serve as a plug in the brain drain through which Alaska's youth flow to colleges and universities outside the state at a rate unmatched in the nation, the Alaska Scholars Program has grown from 217 students from the 1999 graduating class to 340 in the 2001 graduating class, a 57 percent increase in just two years. In 1999, 29 percent of the eligible students took the scholarship and in 2001, just over 45 percent elected to attend the University of Alaska on the scholarship. (UA in Review, 2002.) The impact of the program has been felt on all three major campuses and accounts for most of the recent growth in enrollment of classic first-time freshmen. In addition, Alaska Scholars have retained at a much higher rate than non-Scholars. While overall the Alaska Scholars Program is regarded as a great success in Alaska, the experience of students from rural high schools has been quite mixed and has required special effort at preparation and advising. An example is the Emerging Scholars Program in Bethel, which begins to work with students likely to qualify for the program while they are still in high school.

Second, the university focused on the budget, in terms both of the goal of increasing legislative support and the process by which the budget request was developed. The timing was appropriate as the budget normally is reviewed by the Regents in draft in September and approved in November, when it is submitted to the Governor, who in turn submits it to the legislature in December for consideration by that body during a 120 day annual session beginning in mid-January. Because so much of the preparation of the FY 2000 budget had already taken place, there was little for the new university administration to do but evaluate strategy. In previous years, the university focused its persuasive efforts on the legislature. The new administration noted a stronger correlation, however, between what the Governor recommended for the university and what the university eventually received than between what the university requested and what it received. So, an all-out effort was mounted to persuade the Governor to support the university's full budget request. As this effort was consistent with the Governor's major emphasis on education, he agreed then and has every year since supported the university's full operating budget request. In the first year, the university received a 3.6 percent increase, a very disappointing result, although the best in more than a decade.

Another aspect of the budget that concerned the new administration was that it appeared to be controlled by the budget staff on the campuses and in the system office. This may have made perfect sense during the years when the key budget decisions were how the various units of the university would reallocate in order to consume yet another year of fixed cost increases. So, for the FY 2001 budget, the new administration began an "initiative process" in which the president, based on an assessment of the state’s most pressing needs, solicited proposals from the campuses for initiatives designed to meet those needs. The academic leadership (deans, provosts, and chancellors) of the campuses reviewed the proposals and submitted them to the president, who then decided which would be included in the budget request. Stressing responsiveness to the needs of the state, accountability for state funds, and the assertion that higher education is not just the best but the only tried and true path for economic development, the FY2001 budget appropriation was increased 9 percent over the previous year, a huge success but still not sufficient in the president's eyes to put the university on solid ground. When the president spoke to groups around the state, as well as to the legislature, he stressed accountability to the point where the university's web-based budget tracking system was established at the site www.accountability@alaska.edu. For the FY 2002 budget, the process was modified further such that in addition to the academic leadership reviewing proposals, faculty leaders were invited to participate. The university received a 6.6 percent increase for FY 2002, again a disappointment, but in the context of the "time in the desert," a great success. The process for the FY 2003 budget was modified to put faculty leaders in charge of the review of initiative proposals, with academic administrators advising the president as the budget request came together. Unfortunately, due to a state budget shortfall of nearly $1 billion, or 30 percent, the forecast for the university’s success this year is not optimistic. Still, however, since the fall of 1998 when the new administration came to office at the University of Alaska, the base operating budget has increased 21 percent.

On the basis of the foregoing discussion, we can move now to the third focus, the outcomes of this additional funding. First, the number of regular faculty lines has increased by 21 percent since 1998. Without adding faculty, the university would be unable to create and deliver courses, develop new high demand certificate and degree programs, and apply for externally funded research grants. New academic programs were begun in the areas of process technology and transportation logistics, both in close collaboration with industry. (Note that the former involves the oil industry -- Alaska produces 25 percent of the oil consumed in the United States; and the global air transportation business -- Anchorage is the nation’s largest international air cargo airport in terms of landed weight.) To play a more important role in the preparation of K-12 teachers, the university developed new master’s and baccalaureate programs, including one designed for distance delivery to rural Alaska, which suffers from very high teacher turnover. To meet the state's high demand for nurses, the university invested in the capacity to produce additional nurses. To meet the needs of emerging technology businesses, the university worked with the Alaska High Tech Business Council on a highly subscribed twelve month certificate program that is now on three campuses. To build a greater competitive capacity in our research community, the university invested $1 million as the non-federal match for an application to the National Science Foundation's Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (NSF/EPSCoR); the university's proposal was ranked first in the nation in 2000 and since then Alaska EPSCoR has been awarded a total of $7 million in non-state funds per year. Federal receipts on the whole have risen 90 percent between FY 1998 and FY 2002, from $49 million to just over $94 million.

With its new found success with the Governor and legislature, the university has received additional support from private sources. On his death, former Regent Elmer Rasmuson left the university $19 million, the largest single private gift in the university's history. These funds were designated for an endowed chair in economics for the Anchorage campus and for the expansion of the university's museum and the library on the Fairbanks campus. As part of an agreement with the State of Alaska to settle antitrust litigation, BP and Phillips Petroleum agreed to give the university annual gifts ranging from $3 million to $4 million, depending on the success of their Alaska business. Based on input from faculty from across the system, these funds have been used to:

  • expedite planning and design of much needed new bioscience research facilities,
  • bring distinguished visitors to the university (e.g., Leon Panetta, Mary Frances Berry, Theda Skocpol, Scott Momaday, and others),
  • hire distinguished faculty in "tipping point" fields (e.g., global climate change, satellite data retrieval and analysis, fisheries, logistics, high performance supercomputing, bioinformatics, and distance education),
  • support the university's Institute for Social and Economic Research to conduct studies of the state's economy,
  • jump-start the Geospatial Information Network of Alaska and its program to take advantage of Alaska's ability to interrogate low earth orbiting satellites with much greater frequency than at lower latitudes, and
  • create the Alaska Center for Excellence in Schools to strengthen the bridge between the university's faculty and the state's K-12 system (designed with the assistance of the New Teacher Center at the University of California Santa Cruz).

A fourth area of emphasis over the last year has been an analysis of our progress to date and the organizational and other changes required to continue that forward movement. Taking a page out of the academic book, as it were, the president's office initiated a series of external peer reviews (Clark, 1983). External teams have traveled to Alaska and conducted, unlike accreditation reviews, no holds barred analyses of research administration and compliance, student services, facilities planning and development, faculty and staff relations, and academic planning and decision making structures and processes. A team to look at our information technology structure will be in the state in early May. The Regents and the president's office have found these reviews to be great value, though the campuses have expressed a mix of reactions from strong support, because the external team supported a particular viewpoint or championed a neglected interest, to strong objection, because the teams have consistently recommended that the system office increase oversight and coordination of the campuses, a function largely jettisoned during the "time in the desert."

While the story of the last three years at the University of Alaska has been one of great success, there remains a glaring hole in the dike that the new faculty, new funding, new programs, and new scholarships have failed to fill – the brain drain of our students to colleges and universities "outside." Are the changes made in the university "fads" or "innovations?" (Birnbaum, 2000). Though the Alaska Scholars program has increased the university's take of classic first time freshmen, enrollment overall continues to decline. The university's recruitment performance has been lacking and its retention rates are comparably poor. A major portion of the FY 2003 budget request is targeted at student recruitment and retention programs and outside consultants have been brought in to help develop plans and programs toward this end. This is a critical concern of the university for few students who leave the state for their higher education return, thus undermining a most important foundational element for economic development -- a trained workforce. I turn now to the beginning of an evaluation of this case using analytical tools derived from the higher education literature.

In this admittedly very preliminary section of the paper, I will ask how well the University of Alaska has done to reengage itself with its state. One approach is to examine the extent to which the university has stressed the five goals of the Kellogg Commission in its "Returning to the Our Roots" series of reports. (Kellogg Commission, 1996-2000.) These are:

  • Placing the student experience -- graduate and undergraduate, traditional and non-traditional -- at the heart of institutional concerns.
  • Maintaining access as a priority, despite financial and political pressures.
  • Going beyond extension to become more productively involved with our communities.
  • Creating an America that encourages learning throughout life.
  • Redefining excellence through the prism of this new agenda.

Since 1998, the University of Alaska has emphasized the student experience in terms of new academic programs, renovated facilities, and new faculty, but the efforts have yet to bear substantial fruit. Much more needs to be done if the university's efforts are to result in a positive effect on the only metric that matters in the long run -- enrollment. Perhaps as Dey and Hurtado suggest, a more ecological perspective including students’ educational plans and preferences needs to be taken (Dey and Hurtado, 1999). Clearly, more programs for part-time students and those at a distance are required. Arguably, the state's remoteness and extreme climate doom it to failure on this count, but this argument fails inasmuch as North Dakota, remote and cold too but not nearly as beautiful, captures 84 percent of its college bound freshmen.

As to access, the University of Alaska is open admission and tuition and fees are among the lowest in the nation. So, while access is maintained, it is insufficiently accessed. If Altbach and his colleagues are right, the university needs to reach out much more aggressively to high school students, particularly those in rural Alaska, and especially Alaska Natives. To contribute greater rates of success in higher education, additional preparatory programs will likely be required (Altbach, Lomotey and Kyle, 1999). In addition, the university should keep pressing the legislature for a state funded merit and/or needs based financial aid program.

The university's extension service was cut back dramatically during the "time in the desert" so unlike most states where there are extension agents in every county, Alaska's are in only eleven locations across the state. Nevertheless, the Alaska Center for Excellence in Schools is an example of a program designed to reach out to the state’s K-12 community. The Alaska Marine Advisory Program provides assistance to the subsistence and commercial components of the fishing industry. The Small Business Development Center helps small businesses locate capital and expertise. Much more needs to be done in this area.

To contribute to lifelong learning in the state, in 1998 the university created the University of Alaska Corporate Programs (UACP). UACP works with large and small employers to assess their training and development needs and to link them with university faculty and staff who can provide the needed training. In addition, a master's degree program in public administration is now available via distance to Alaskans all across the state who work in the public sector and who wish to enhance their careers. New doctoral programs in psychology and education, both of which are targeted at working professionals, are in preparation.

As far as redefining excellence in these terms, the university, like all universities, has a great distance to travel. One step the university has taken is to institute the "Make Students Count Award." Each year, four staff from across the university system are selected by student government to receive a cash prize along with two Alaska Airline tickets. As well, the university's collective bargaining agreements provide that promotion and tenure criteria for faculty are required to be individually tailored to each faculty member depending on the assigned workload. So, if a faculty member is primarily instructional, the weight given to instruction is commensurately high. And on the research front, there is a high value placed on faculty providing research opportunities for undergraduate students. That said, the challenge of redefining excellence in these terms will be very difficult. University administrators and faculty alike reward research, especially that which brings along full indirect cost recovery, but is it research that will meet needs in the state? Is it costing the university more than it is bringing in? I share Gumport's concerns in the research arena: first, data on the costs and benefits of research is difficult to obtain, and second, the focus of research has been at the local level as opposed to a higher policy level (Gumport, 1999).

In closing, while the university has taken steps in the direction prescribed by the Kellogg Commission and others, there is much progress yet to make and, clearly, there are other sets of prescriptive standards that should be reviewed and additional challenges to face. Zusman, for example, lays out very clearly a number of issues, both external and internal, facing higher education in the coming years (Zusman, 1999). Most notable are reduction in public support, privatization of university services, institutional budget retrenchment and reallocation, increased tuition and reduced access among students from minority groups, increased use of part-time faculty, decline of Ph.D. programs and academic programs that do not meet compelling market needs, centralization of governance and the rise of university systems, and the increased interdependence of higher education and K-12 education. Zusman concludes that the basic social contract between society and higher education will need to be revisited in the coming years, with special focus on the issues of institutional autonomy, institutional governance, and leadership.

In Alaska, as this paper begins to demonstrate, the basic social contract is being revisited. Additional work on this project will refine the concept of engagement, bring to light much more about this effort and critically evaluate what steps have worked and why, but more importantly what did not work and why. It is hoped that this work contributes to the general store of data about change in higher education and the conditions which contribute to and mitigate it, as well as provide helpful analysis of options for university leaders seeking to improve their university's service to their states.

Selected Sources

Altbach, Philip. "Harsh Realities: The Professoriate Faces a New Century." In American Higher Education in the Twenty-First Century: Social, Political, and Economic Challenges, edited by Robert Berdahl, Patricia Gumport, and Philip Altbach, 271-97. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999.

Altbach, Phillip, Kofi Lomotey, and Shariba Kyle. "Race in Higher Education: The Continuing Crisis." In American Higher Education in the Twenty-First Century: Social, Political, and Economic Challenges, edited by Robert Berdahl, Patricia Gumport, and Philip Altbach, 448-66. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999.

Balderston, Frederick. Managing Today’s University: Strategies for Viability, Change, and Excellence. (2nd Ed.) San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1995.

Berdahl, Robert, Patricia Gumport and Philip Altbach (eds.) American Higher Education in the Twenty-First Century: Social, Political, and Economic Challenges. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999.

Birnbaum, Robert. Management Fads in Higher Education: Where They Come From, What They Do, and Why They Fail. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000.

Birnbaum, Robert. "The Dilemma of Presidential Leadership." In American Higher Education in the Twenty-First Century: Social, Political, and Economic Challenges, edited by Robert Berdahl, Patricia Gumport, and Philip Altbach, 323-46. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999.

Carnegie Commission on Higher Education. Priorities for Action: Final Report of the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1973.

Clark, Burton. The Higher Education System: Academic Organization in Cross-National Perspective. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983.

Clark, Burton. Comments at Annual Meeting of the Association for the Study of Higher Education, Richmond, November 2001.

Dey, Eric, and Sylvia Hurtado. "Students, Colleges, and Society: Considering the Interconnections." In American Higher Education in the Twenty-First Century: Social, Political, and Economic Challenges, edited by Robert Berdahl, Patricia Gumport, and Philip Altbach, 298-322. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins university Press, 1999.

Duderstadt, James. A University for the 21st Century. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000.
Gade, Marian. Four Multicampus Systems: Some Policies and Practices That Work. Washington, D.C.: Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, 1993.

Gardner, David. "Meeting the Challenges of the New Millenium: The University's Role." In Challenges Facing Higher Education at the New Millenium, edited by Werner Hirsch and Luc Weber, 18-25. Phoenix, AZ: ACE/Oryx Press, 1999.

Gladieux, Lawrence and Jacqueline King. "The Federal Government and Higher Education." In American Higher Education in the Twenty-First Century: Social, Political, and Economic Challenges, edited by Robert Berdahl, Patricia Gumport, and Philip Altbach, 151-82. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999.

Gumport, Patricia. "Graduate Education and Research: Interdependence and Strain." In American Higher Education in the Twenty-First Century: Social, Political, and Economic Challenges, edited by Robert Berdahl, Patricia Gumport, and Philip Altbach, 396-426. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999.

Gumport, Patricia , and Marc Chun. "Technology and Higher Education: Opportunities and Challenges in the New Era." In American Higher Education in the Twenty-First Century: Social, Political, and Economic Challenges, edited by Robert Berdahl, Patricia Gumport, and Philip Altbach, 370-95. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999.

Gumport, Patricia, and Barbara Sporn. "Institutional Adaptation: Demands for Management Reform and University Administration." In Higher Education: Handbook of Theory and Research, 103-45. New York: Agathon Press, 1999.

Harcleroad, Fred. "The Hidden Hand: External Constituencies and Their Impact." In American Higher Education in the Twenty-First Century: Social, Political, and Economic Challenges, edited by Robert Berdahl, Patricia Gumport, and Philip Altbach, 241-70. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins university Press, 1999.

Hirsch, Werner and Luc Weber (eds) Challenges Facing Higher Education at the New Millenium. Phoenix, AZ: ACE/Oryx Press, 1999.

Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER), University of Alaska Anchorage. Trends in Alaska’s People and Economy, October 2001.

Johnsen, James. “The Restructuring of Higher Education in Alaska in 1987 and Its Implications for Faculty Relations.” Proceedings of the Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education. CUNY, 2001.

Johnsen, James. “The Politics of Paradox: An Exploratory Analysis of Political Development in Alaska.” with Clive S. Thomas. Annual Meeting of the Western Political Science Association, 1985.

Johnstone, D. Bruce. "Financing Higher Education: Who Should Pay?" In American Higher Education in the Twenty-First Century: Social, Political, and Economic Challenges, edited by Robert Berdahl, Patricia Gumport, and Philip Altbach, 347-69. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999.

Kellogg Commission on the Future of State and Land-Grant Universities, Taking Charge of Change: Renewing the Promise of State and Land-Grant Universities. National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges,1996-2000.

Kerr, Clark. The Uses of the University. 4th Ed. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995.

Kerr, Clark. Higher Education Cannot Escape History: Issues for the Twenty-First Century. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1994.

Rogers, Brian and Thomas Gaylord, “Restructuring the University of Alaska Statewide System of Higher Education.’” presented at the Annual Meeting of the International Conference of the Society for College and University Planning, Toronto, July/August 1988.

Sporn, Barbara and David Dill. "University 2001: What Will the University of the Twenty-First Century Look Like?" In Emerging Patterns of Social Demand and university Reform: Through a Glass Darkly, edited by David Dill and Barbara Sporn, 212-36. Oxford: IAU Press and Elsevier Science Ltd., 1995.

The Chronicle of Higher Education, Almanac Issue, 2001-2. V. XLVIII, No.1, August 31, 2001.

UA Fiscal Year 2003 Operating and Capital Budget Requests. University of Alaska Office of Budget and Institutional Research, November 2001.

UA in Review 2002. University of Alaska Office of Budget and Institutional Research, March 2002 (Draft).

Zusman, Ami. "Issues Facing Higher Education in the Twenty-First Century." In American Higher Education in the Twenty-First Century: Social, Political, and Economic Challenges, edited by Robert Berdahl, Patricia Gumport, and Philip Altbach, 109-50. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999.

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