Friday Focus: UAF's future is up to us

January 31, 2020

Tori Tragis

UAF photo by JR Ancheta.
UAF photo by JR Ancheta.

— by Dan White, chancellor

Thank you to those who joined the Chancellor’s forum on strategic planning last week in person or on-line. Six speakers talked succinctly about some of UAF’s new initiatives that support our strategic goals. The presentations were as follows:

Samara Taber discussed enrollment initiatives, including the Nanook Pledge, our new program to guarantee students four years of financial support and improve student recruitment and retention.

Owen Guthrie talked about the eAdvantage program and the North Star Middle College, both new initiatives to modernize our school student experience and grow enrollment.

Barb Amarok shared her experiences at the Northwest Campus in Nome with K-12 bridging and equity; a clear path to student engagement.

Nona Letuligasenoa shared the new initiatives in athletics that are engaging our community and our students in their college experience.

Jennifer Tilbury talked about the University’s important work in developmental learning initiatives to bolster the likelihood that our underprepared students will find success at UAF.

Arleigh Reynolds discussed UAF’s One Health research, and highlighted how we all are part of the One Health construct that will lead to more connectedness in our research community and wellness on campus, in our state, and across the circumpolar North.

All of our strategic planning committee chairs were present for the meeting and some pitched in to answer questions. The faculty chairs include Jennifer Tilbury, Peter Webley, Taryn Lopez, Pat Sekaquaptewa, and Jessie Young-Robertson. Based on the work of their committees, each put together excellent reports on one of six goals for our strategic plan. The reports are all posted on my web site and I encourage you to review them and comment. 

During their work last spring, each of the strategic planning teams first addressed the question, “who do we want to be” followed by the question “who are we now”. Then, linking these two, they answered the question “how do we get there”? Each group identified suites of initiatives as steps in this transformation. The next step is to assess and evaluate the wide range of initiatives identified by each team needed to move our university forward. Here is where you can engage and connect with us. What are the returns on investment, i.e. the value propositions? Where do we put the smart money and where are the points of diminishing return? Of particular importance is a sensitivity analysis. That is, what is the shape of the curve that describes the return on investment? For example, return on investment for any particular initiative is a line, but in all likelihood not a straight line. If it were a straight line, doubling the investment would, for example, double the impact. However, for some, the first dollar may increase results by tenfold but the last dollar may have less of an impact. Understanding these relationships makes for smarter investments.

Interim Executive Officer Samara Taber will be working with the committee chairs to come up with a questionnaire to get your input on the initiatives as we at UAF seek to put some specifics to our goals. While not finalized, I anticipate that we will build a questionnaire to measure your perspective on a Likert scale for the following types of questions for each initiative.

  1. What is the magnitude of the likely investment needed?

  2. What kind of Return on Investment (ROI) is achievable over a 5-year period?

  3. What kind of ROI is achievable over a 10-year period?

  4. How sensitive is the metric to changes in funding?

  5. How much influence do we, at UAF, have over the inputs?

  6. How much influence do we, at UAF, have over the outputs?

  7. To what degree is the initiative supporting UAF’s strategic enrollment planning?

  8. To what degree will it meet the goals identified by the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility (IDEA) task force?

  9. How invested are you in the initiative?

As we assemble these questions, I encourage you to send me an email or one to Samara to share your ideas. I expect the questionnaire to be available before the second week in February and the input to be received through the second week in March. This will allow for plenty of time to incorporate your feedback, clarify priorities, and finalize the strategic plan. I look forward to these next steps.

In my Friday Focus last month I concluded that we are all in the enrollment business. We often think about growing enrollment in terms of growing new enrollment, recruiting new students to this great University. Although recruiting new students is critical to our future, the easiest student to recruit is the one already here. How do we recruit students already here? Advising. Lucky for us we are all in the advising business as well. I ask that each and every one of us, faculty, staff, students, and administrators, be great advisors. Everyone at UAF is an advisor and whether you are in enrollment management, admissions, the registrar, the department of military and veteran services, financial aid, the bursar’s office, the academic advising center, rural student services, an academic department, or at our high performing Community and Technical College, or a rural campus, you are an advisor.  Please don’t wait to be asked and don’t stand on old school boundaries of advising pretense. Every advisor is different, every student is different, and every educational journey is unique. All students deserve our every attempt to help them on their journey. Thank you for taking the initiative to help every student succeed at UAF. 

In her interview with Tegan Hanlon this week, Chancellor Sandeen noted that enrollment drops at UAA were attributable to lack of student confidence in state support for higher education and uncertainty about program stability. These are not UAA’s issues; they are our issues too. Students who were frightened by the budget reductions and the uncertainty in UA overall started looking elsewhere for stability. Some potential transfers were initiated over the summer but are occurring now. We have a chance to change this narrative. We are in the unique position to change it because we know more than anyone else the great education that is had at UAF. We will change the narrative with effective advising and increased positive communication. 

UAF's future is up to us. Our faculty, staff and students. As I see it, however, we won’t do it alone. I told the Board of Regents at a recent meeting that I advocate for UAA because the best thing for our success is their success. Likewise for UAS. We depend on a common belief in the value of higher education. The value of higher ed is most effectively demonstrated by high performing institutions. No one of us will succeed in a race to the bottom. We need UAA to succeed and they need us to succeed, each in our own way. Please partner with your colleagues at UAA. If a student is not finding what they want at UAF encourage them to look to UAA or UAS. They are their own universities and we are ours. But we all depend on the broader confidence in higher education that is borne by success. 

You are doing great work. Let’s celebrate it by getting the word out. Whether that is you, me, your supervisor or your colleague. Do not hesitate. If you have a great story, great news to share, or a great idea, please get that news out. There has never been a better time to get out the word on the important contributions of UAF to Fairbanks, Alaska and the world. Sharing a positive message about greatness, or even pretty good. It is one tool that we have completely within our control that will change the dialogue and positively impact our future. 

To that end, we currently have the Friday Focus, a leadership column each week for your leaders to share their perspectives. I will start reserving spots for our great faculty, staff and students to highlight their work. If you have a success story that you would like featured, send me a note and let’s get it some “air time”. I believe it will help us grow our sense of community, highlight our diversity, and continue to foster inclusion and caring on our campus. And who knows, maybe someone who didn’t will come to know us.

Thank you for the heart that you offer. Thank you for diversifying us.

Thank you for choosing UAF.

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