Friday Focus: A vote of confidence

Dan White
UAF photo by JR Ancheta
Chancellor Dan White

April 29, 2022

— By Dan White, chancellor

The word is out! 

Early Semester Reports, or ESRs, are released weekly this time of year to help us understand what enrollment will look like in the fall. And … wait for it … enrollment is up for fall 2022 by 34% (headcount) compared to last year this time. What? 34%? You heard it right. These numbers are better now than in recent memory. And although these numbers are early there can be no mistake, students are signing up to come to UAF at a rate 34% higher than last year.

What does this mean? Maybe it is just timing. It could be that students are registering earlier this year than last year. Maybe last year they waited until fall to see what was going to become of the pandemic. Maybe they were waiting to see what UAF’s COVID-impacted operations would be like and what we are seeing now is simply a “COVID effect.” Students may just be less worried about COVID than they were last year. 

Or ... it could be that what we are seeing is the first sign of something big. A shift resulting from years of work to get the word out that this is a world-class research university tucked away in Fairbanks, Nome, Bethel, Kotzebue, and Dillingham. The Nation’s Arctic university with an outstanding positive value proposition. Maybe it is the modernizing CTC programming that has people excited. Maybe it is the hopes and dreams around the Troth Yeddha' Indigenous Studies Center or the Alaska Native Success Initiative. Students may be signing up in high numbers because UAF offers them the opportunity to get involved in research early on — from sailing in the Arctic seas on the Sikuliaq to diving beneath the seas at Kasitsna Bay. 

Whatever it is, I know it is the product of years of strategic enrollment planning and the herculean efforts of our admissions and retention staff. I am also sure it is a result of the efforts of our many excellent faculty who persevered throughout the pandemic. 

Excellence through transformative experience is our UAF vision. And even if it is just students enrolling earlier, UAF students are saying in large numbers, “Sign me up!” Sign me up today for a UAF education! Sign me up for the transformative experience. Sign me up early to receive one of those new Nanook Pledge scholarships that are making a UAF education more affordable than ever. 

With the new Nanook Pledge and Nanook Commitment scholarships, UAF is driving student debt down, despite tuition going up. A full 91% of students are now paying less than full UAF tuition because of the increase in financial aid we have made available. That’s right, in an environment of increased tuition, UAF is becoming more affordable for the students who need help! That’s what drives down student debt, drives up enrollment, and increases access to education for everyone!

To me, the current increase in fall 2022 enrollment of 34% is a vote of confidence in UAF by our current and future students and it bodes well for our future. Even if these high numbers temper, what we are seeing is significant. Students, by their actions, have said they want vibrant classrooms full of colleagues, residence halls bursting with energy and enthusiasm, and packed seating at UAF collegiate sports events. An increase in enrollment means an increase in the transformative experiences offered to UAF students. That’s what UAF offers and that's what the students will get. You can’t get around it, the students have spoken. The word is out!

The Chancellor’s cabinet met this week on Monday. We meet bi-weekly and at each meeting, Director of Admissions Anna Gagne-Hawes and Vice Provost Alex Fitts discuss enrollment and retention respectively. After the announcement of the new ESRs, there was an eruption of applause. Applause for our admissions and advising staff, applause for our faculty, and applause for our students. After some very difficult years, UAF students are signing up in large numbers! Online, in person, on edX, for research, and all the way from certificates to Ph.D.s.

And, as we approach commencement tomorrow, we celebrate those who have been with us through some difficult times. Those who have succeeded and are starting the next phase of their life. In the hearts and minds of those of us glued to the ESRs, there is an overwhelming sense of optimism for the graduating class but also for those just joining. It is a new day.

As students are responding to what UAF has to offer, it is not too late. If you are a student or know a student, this is the time. Enroll now to be part of this wave. 

For me, I’m looking forward to a vibrant and exciting fall 2022 already. With more students, in more classes, at more events, and with more enthusiasm. Take a moment to take stock of where we are, where we have been. But then get ready for where we are going!

Thanks for choosing UAF.

Friday Focus is written by a different member of UAF’s leadership team every week.