A Conversation with Representative Anna Fairclough About Education and the UA Strategic Direction Initiative
September 21, 2012
During the 2012 Alaska Legislative Budget Session, Representative Anna Fairclough was a strong proponent of the University of Alaska's FY13 operating budget . That budget included additional funding for advising throughout the University of Alaska Statewide system. The Universities of Alaska Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Southeast all received additional dollars dedicated specifically to enhancing advising efforts.
Recently, SDI caught up with Representative Fairclough to talk about her reasons for championing UA funding for advising, and find out more about her overall perspective of the current state of education in Alaska as well as the University of Alaska Strategic Direction Initiative.
SDI: You played a pivotal role in acquiring additional funding for UA student advising during the last Legislative Session. I wanted to get a perspective from you about why you believe that advising is an important element in determining student success.
Rep. Fairclough: “I’ll give you a couple of reasons why I believe that advising is important: The first is if a student doesn’t know how to access the system, they end up creating a more costly system through trial and error. I have two students who went to school through the UA system. Just trying to navigate the system is difficult from my perspective. The second is if you don’t understand the process, then it ends up costing the parents, the family, and the student more in the long run in both time and money. Just the frustration level of people walking away when they don’t understand or can’t gain access to what they need is a disadvantage to the University as a whole.”
SDI: You participated in the very first Listening Session at the Chugiak-Eagle River Campus. That meeting set the tone for 79 additional Strategic Direction Initiative (SDI) listening sessions conducted at campuses all over the state. One very common message was shifting to a more student-centered culture: Greater flexibility, mobility, and a greater understanding of students needs. Is that the same kind of message you have been hearing from your constituents?
Rep. Fairclough: “What I hear mostly from my constituents is the challenge related to the transferability of credits. I believe that students need to better understand why the classes they take can create a transferability problem within the University system. For example: a biology class offered at UAA may not require a lab, but the same class at UAF does. That UAA credit (when it transfers down to UAF) isn’t accepted in the same way because UAF requires that experience in the lab. That’s just one example.
That said the ‘student centered’ message is an important one. Students want that educational classroom available to them at their convenience. They are moving away from the more traditional setting, even though they want that academic support. But they may not be inclined to be another seat in the classroom. I have staff earning their degrees through your system, and much of it is not being done in the classroom; it’s through distance education.”
SDI: Just how important is higher education in the state of Alaska?
Rep. Fairclough: “I think our future is dependent on being able to provide for this generation and the next, so they can provide for the previous generations. Whether it’s looking at our economy from a global perspective and how we compete in a world market, or innovating ways to grow and sustain rural communities, its dependent upon accessing higher education. We have to be able to keep up, and I believe that (as Americans) we are falling behind in the global market.
There has to be a significant change in how we organize the delivery of education. The standard K-12 classroom is not producing a student (at least in the Anchorage area) that is prepared to step into the higher learning environment. In the four years I’ve been involved in the University of Alaska budget, the University has come to the state asking for more dollars to put into remedial education and bridging programs. The accountability for that service should be delivered in K-12, where it should be less expensive than taking it later on at the university. ”
SDI: The following is a list of the five strategic direction themes that emerged from our July 23 SDI planning session:
- Student Achievement & Attainment
- Productive Partnerships with Alaska’s Schools
- Productive Partnerships with Alaska’s Public and Private Industries
- Research & Development to Build and Sustain Alaska’s Economic Growth
- Accountability to the People of Alaska
How would you list these themes in terms of priorities?
Rep. Fairclough: “Off the cuff, I think we need to start establishing higher profile partnerships with the Alaska public and private industries. We need to then provide partnerships with schools and be able to talk about issues with the general public. We need that to happen so we can somehow reflect measurements of how the education system is being accountable to the people of Alaska.
Student Attainment and Achievement is our goal in front of everything, but if we don’t have those partnerships in place, I’m not sure how we can provide for the continuum of K-12 learner into post secondary learning and the workforce. We need to actually put everyone’s skills to work for the development of the state of Alaska.
I think that research and development absolutely needs to be a component of the higher education process, but I think that the university needs to take into account and look into a cost benefit analysis on many of the programs they’re offering, just like K-12 does.
Alaskans want to invest in education. I don’t know of a single Alaskan legislator that doesn’t believe in our people’s ability to succeed if given the tools they need to be successful… whether it’s workforce development in skills or trades or in higher education.
The reason you saw me step up and champion the University of Alaska’s budget was that we worked together for the last four years, and we had tolled the bell loud enough and said “we’re willing to invest, but you need to have an equal share of investment: whether it’s additional money invested, lower tuition, or fundraising. If you go shoulder to shoulder I’m going to fight on your behalf to make sure the state stays a partner in providing quality higher education for Alaskans.”
SDI: Is there anything else that you would like to comment on?
Rep. Fairclough: “K-12’s budget has grown from $1 billion annually to $1.5 billion today. And they continually advocate for increases in student allocation, which I understand and would like to support, but we can’t sustain that trajectory of budget growth. There are other slices of the budget pie that are very important. The University of Alaska needs a piece of that pie. So do Public Safety, and Behavioral Health (or social services). There are also many important services that state government partners with local governments on that affect the budget too.
There has to be a balance that Alaska strikes between how much money we have available now and for our future. I have worked for four years to build a repository of how Alaskans have, over a generation, tried to take on the fiscal issue of how we sustain ourselves if resource development weren’t it’s backbone. Right now, 85-90% of the budget that the legislature can invest in Alaska comes from resource development.
All systems are getting very broad in what they offer, and I believe at some point in Alaska’s history we will have to prioritize what’s available. So, as industry is demanding different skills from their workforce, my question is “Has the University of Alaska begun examining those programs that are not being accessed by students, or have we continued to support those programs without evaluating the return on investment for the University?” I don’t know the answer to that question. But where we have large wait lists, why aren’t we investing resources for university professors to whittle down those wait lists.”
SDI: So, are you talking about reallocation?
Rep. Fairclough: “Not necessarily a reallocation: but a cost analysis. So just like I think Alaskans will have to face (at some point in our future) having to prioritize where they believe their government should invest money, I also believe that the University of Alaska has the capacity to be ahead of the curve and in a position to pull Alaska out of any future crisis that might be looming on the horizon.”