by Teigan Akagi, Staff Writer, UAS Whalesong
UAS Juneau was bustling on the morning of Aug. 27, as faculty and staff welcomed new students to the University of Alaska Southeast. These new undergraduates comprise the largest enrollment group UAS has seen in a long time.
As of Sept. 15, UAS had 479 new undergraduate students, compared to 457 last year, according to Kristen Handley, Director of Institutional Effectiveness. Almost 72 percent, or 343 of this year’s new undergraduates are composed of first-time freshmen, transfer students, and non degree-seekers.
UAS has worried about student enrollment for the past decade, and it was made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“A lot of students stepped away from [UAS] just to take a break because it was so hard to do this through COVID,” said Lori Klein, UAS Vice Chancellor for Enrollment Management and Student Affairs. But Klein is hopeful the incoming students won’t have to experience the challenges of juggling online classes, isolation, and a global pandemic.
To boost new student enrollment this year, the university tried a new approach, marketing UAS to the Pacific Northwest. The idea came from Hanover Research, a consulting firm that has been working with UAS on market research and development strategies. Klein said the marketing efforts paid off, increasing the number of applicants from that region by 4%.
Makenna Kirk, an 18-year-old freshman majoring in Marine Biology, came from Tacoma, Washington. She found UAS through a college search online.
“ I started looking up colleges, found UAS, saw how beautiful the school was and saw that they had my major,” Kirk said. UAS is well-known for its marine biology program.
Klein said most new students this fall have come from Anchorage, Mat-Su, and Kenai. UAS has been working for the past few years to build a steady presence in the region.
“We did some marketing for UA Scholars, but we didn’t do any particular special marketing there. We just saw an uptake in new students from the valley,” Klein said.
Klein hopes the increase in student enrollment isn’t just a one-time thing. “It feels good to tip in the upward direction,” she said.
To keep that upward incline, UAS is focusing on retaining its students. “I’m a firm believer that the best recruitment strategy is the retention of our current students. You all go out and share your experience. If you have a positive experience, if you’re learning and growing and see a future career path through our programs, you are going to tell other people who are willing to come here,” Klein said.
First Year Students and First Impressions
Welcome Week began with UAS orientation on Aug. 26. It’s an event that staff begin prepping for in the spring. For the past several years, Klein said, orientation has focused on building community between staff, faculty, and students. Additionally, UAS wants to give students opportunities to build networks on and off campus as well as a chance to experience all the fun that Juneau and UAS have to offer.
That isn’t the only thing the university focuses on during orientation. “We really want you to walk away knowing that you matter to us. We want you to feel like you have a place here,” Klein said.
Kylli Anderson, an exchange student from the University of Minnesota, said orientation was a great way to meet new people. “I thought it was a great way to get a feel of the campus and ease your way into the school year,” Anderson said.
Taylor Hardey, from Sonoma State University, called orientation “a very welcoming environment.”
First-time students got to explore what the university community had to offer, like campus events and introductions to campus resources.
Liz Früchnicht is a 19-year-old freshman from Granville, Ohio. She said the aesthetic of the 2009 movie Twilight is what drew her to the mountains and forests, clouds and mist of the Southeast Alaska university.
Früchnicht said she was overjoyed by her decision to attend UAS. “ I love it. I don’t think I could have picked a better school,” she said.
Orientation solidified Früchnicht’s choice to attend UAS. “I just realized that I’m all good and that I am not going to regret this decision,” she said.
Freshman Jackson Khan came to UAS from Lahore, Pakistan. “When I landed here. I just saw big mountains, greenery, and lakes. People are super friendly, which makes this place a second heaven,” said Khan.
Khan said his uncle, a civil engineer who has resided in Juneau since 1982, promised that Juneau would have high-speed internet, an X-box and good PC. He is living with his uncle and working on campus, and does have all those things.
|What about UAS Sitka and UAS Ketchikan?|
UAS Sitka has also seen an increase in new and returning students. Institutional Effectiveness Director Handley said Sitka has 101 new undergraduate students. Half are transfer students, while freshmen and non degree-seeking students make up the rest.
“Sitka has kind of reinvigorated its effort for, what they call, Sitka Start,” Klein said.
Sikta Start is aimed at bringing in new freshmen. She said the program connects freshman-year students with career-networking opportunities, academic guidance, and helps students build support systems in order to succeed in school.
UAS Ketchikan has 35 new undergraduate students, Handley said.
Klein said it’s unclear if Ketchikan enrollment is down or if the enrollment numbers are reflecting the changes.
“It looks like Ketchikan enrollment is down, but we’ve shifted some courses from being Ketchikan courses to Juneau courses,” she said.