By Margaret Everson, Staff Writer
In the June 2021 Board of Regents meeting, Interim President Pat Pitney announced that education programs within the University of Alaska system would focus on collaboration between Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau. This decision reversed previous efforts to consolidate UA education programs to the Alaska College of Education, which was to be hosted at UAS.
According to a 2016 UA press release, the consolidated college was originally supposed to be set at University of Alaska Fairbanks, but because education is one of the largest programs at UAS, the UA Board of Regents were persuaded to move the Alaska CoE to Juneau instead, accessible to students statewide via distance learning.
This was good news for UAS. Hosting the Alaska CoE . The City and Borough of Juneau promised to support the school by endowing the university with $1 million. By 2018, CBJ was still working to fulfill the endowment, and the Juneau community was called upon to assist with funding. UA also granted $1.15 million to UAS for the new college.
In 2019, the University of Alaska Anchorage School of Education lost accreditation from the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation. That led then-UA President Jim Johnsen to push for its closure. This led a wave of UAA education students to transfer to UAS, and coordinated effort between the three main campuses became necessary for Anchorage students who wanted to complete their degree programs.
At this point, it seemed as though the foundation of UAS’ Alaska College of Education was on the horizon.
However, the Board of Regents’ June 2021 session reversed this narrative. It was at this meeting when Pitney officially announced the creation of the Alaska College of Education Consortium.
According to Pitney, the goals of the ACEC were to strengthen the educational programs at all three major UA campuses, to increase the number of UA-educated teachers in Alaska, and to re-engage with the Anchorage student population following the loss of accreditation. The programs available at each campus were to be unique from one another in order to strengthen cooperation throughout the UA system.
To this day, a variety of education courses and programs are available through all three major UA campuses. The Alaska College of Education was divided into the three Schools of Education at UAA, UAS, and UAF. A collaborative approach among the three campuses is used to instruct nearly 90% of Alaska’s future educators.
State Senator Jesse Kiehl was part of the Assembly when the CBJ endowment for the Alaska CoE was being created. According to Kiehl, the push for UA system-wide collaboration on education programs did not have significant negative impacts on the CBJ community. “We were never pushing to be the center of the consolidation,” said Kiehl, “we were working to prevent UA from ending the teacher education program in Juneau.”
The money from the CBJ endowment was put into the Juneau Community Foundation, and it is still being used to support teacher education at UAS.
Following the announcement of the ACEC’s strategy, Pitney announced that Executive Dean Steve Atwater would be retiring from his post.
Atwater served as a Dean for two of the UA Schools of Education and helped the UAS teacher education program gain accreditation. According to Interim School of Education Director Mary Lou Madden, once the consolidation process was reversed, Atwater felt that it was time to move on from UA.
Madden stated that no tangible benefits were apparent during the initial consolidation process. No significant increase in enrollment or funding resulted from the effort to found the Alaska CoE.
Among UAS SoE faculty, there is a generally positive attitude toward cross-campus collaboration.
“I was wary because I knew it [consolidation] was going to cause a lot of contentious feelings across the state,” said Dr. Lisa Richardson, who is the coordinator for the M. Ed. Reading Specialist program at UAS. Ideally, the future of the UA education program would include a richer dialogue across the state.
Dr. Virgil Fredenberg, who is UAS’s Professor of Math Education, noted that there was not a clear need for a consolidated college. “I think this [collaboration] is what should have happened at the start,” said Fredenberg. “It is something the faculty have wanted for many years. They have collaborated often in the past, so it is nice to see that it will increase now.”
The general attitude of UA education faculty is reflected in Richardson’s closing statement: “All we really care about is preparing and supporting teachers in Alaska.”