Guide to Colleges & Universities in Alaska (AK)

Higher education in Alaska is dominated by the state university system, in particular the campuses of the University of Alaska in Anchorage, the largest state school, and the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, the second largest. The National Center for Education Statistics reports there are 10 colleges and universities in Alaska, including five private institutions. In addition, the three main state campuses in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Southeast Alaska operate far-flung satellite campuses that bring college to the remote rural areas of the enormous state. Here’s a breakdown of the school types that deliver two- and four-year academic degrees in Alaska.

  • Public 4-year: 3
  • Public 2-year: 2
  • Private 4-year, nonprofit: 2
  • Private 2-year, nonprofit: 2
  • Private 4-year, for-profit: 1

Colleges and universities in Alaska

In addition, many certificate and vocational programs are offered through the UA system’s satellite campuses, including Kenai Peninsula College on Kachemak Bay, Kodiak College on Kodiak Island and Prince William Sound Community College in Valdez, which serves an area of more than 44,000 square miles.

Below are the Fall 2014 enrollment figures for individual campuses of public and private schools in Alaska. These numbers come from the National Center for Education Statistics.

Alaska public colleges:

  • Alaska’s Institute of Technology: 889
  • Ilisagvik College: 243
  • University of Alaska Anchorage: 17,151
  • University of Alaska Fairbanks: 8,620
  • University of Alaska Southeast: 2,989

Alaska private colleges:

  • Alaska Bible College: 46
  • Alaska Career College: 479
  • Alaska Christian College: 68
  • Alaska Pacific University: 579
  • Charter College-Anchorage: 3,267

A 2014 report by the U.S. Department of Education reports that Title IV financial aid-eligible colleges and universities in Alaska awarded 6,432 degrees and certificates to 6,238 graduates during the 2011-12 academic year. About 85 percent of those degree-earning students came from four-year institutions, and 63 percent came from public institutions.

Alaska is a fairly well-educated state. Nearly one in 10 residents over the age of 25 has a graduate or professional degree, and 18 percent of those in that age group have a Bachelor’s degree. Among those between 18 and 24, nearly 40 percent have at least some college, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Online Education in Alaska

Alaska is a huge state, and travel between the few large cities, towns and remote villages is often arduous. Because of that, it’s no surprise that the state has embraced online learning as a way to bring education to people who can’t travel to a traditional, brick-and-mortar campus. Through the Alaska Learning Network — an online learning and professional development program managed by the University of Alaska Southeast — distance education for many Alaskans starts with high school classes and continues on to postsecondary pursuits in Alaska colleges and universities.

In 2012, nearly 34,000 students enrolled in public and private schools in Alaska. About 16 percent of that number — 5,553 students — was enrolled exclusively in online classes, and 17.2 percent — 5,817 students — was enrolled in some but not all distance education courses. Most of those online enrollees were undergraduates, although about a third of the state’s 2,779 graduate students were taking classes exclusively online or through some other distance learning technology.

Here are some key stats on online learning in Alaska:

  • Number of schools in Alaska offering online or hybrid programs: 6
  • Number of people in the state who enroll in online learning: 11,370
  • Number of online degree or certificate programs offered through the University of Alaska system: 112
  • Associate degrees offered: 19
  • Bachelor’s degrees offered: 16
  • Certificates offered: 15
  • Degrees offered: 29
  • Occupational Endorsement Certificates offered: 16
  • Post-baccalaureate program offered: 15

In addition to the online degree programs and courses offered through the University of Alaska system, several small schools in Alaska offer online classes, including Alaska Bible College in Palmer, Alaska. Alaska Pacific University also offers a wide variety of classes online, such as Strategic Cost Analysis and Macro Economics. Another private college that offers online classes is Charter College-Anchorage, a 3,200-student campus that awards associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees and offers distance learning opportunities at the undergraduate level. Finally, tiny 243-student Ilisagvik College in Barrow, the northernmost point in Alaska, offers distance learning at the undergraduate level. The two-year tribal college offers quality post-secondary academic, vocational and technical education although the periodic geomagnetic storms that produce the beautiful Northern Lights can sometimes interrupt Internet connections in the area.

A number of online programs offered at colleges and universities in Alaska have caught the attention of national collegiate rankings agencies. Here’s a list of the colleges in Alaska that were recognized by U.S. News & World Report in 2015, along with their rank in each category:

  • Alaska Pacific University
    • Best regional universities in the West: No. 42 (tie)
  • University of Alaska-Anchorage
    • Best regional universities in the West: No. 77 (tie)

Top Jobs and Careers in Alaska

Mining, fishing, wildlife and marine occupations are very important to Alaska’s economy. For example, there are 66 times as many mining machine operator jobs in Alaska than in the rest of the U.S., nearly 18 times as many zoologists and wildlife biologists, and 10 times as many mining and geological engineers. Petroleum engineers, ship engineers and life scientists are also in relatively high demand.

There are two ways to determine what the top jobs are in any state, including Alaska. One way is measure the number of new jobs expected, and the other is to look at the percentage growth. Those two metrics don’t always line up, but if you look at percentage growth and then only consider occupations that employ at least 500 people and pay at least $25 per hour, the following emerge as the most promising careers in Alaska in the coming years:

OccupationTop regionsWhy it’s hotNecessary skillsRelevant degrees
Petroleum EngineerPetroleum engineers can find work throughout the state, but the highest concentration is in the area in and around Anchorage and southeast of Anchorage near Valdez. The narrow shoreline of southeastern Alaska and the small area in and around the Tanana Valley region of central-eastern Alaska has very few opportunities for petroleum engineers.Petroleum engineers are needed in Alaska to design and develop ways to extract oil and gas and move it to areas where it can be refined and shipped out. This is a big business in Alaska; the petroleum industry accounts for a third of the jobs in the entire state.Reading comprehension, active listening, speaking, complex problem solving, critical thinkingMost petroleum engineers have a bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering although many also come from civil or mechanical engineering backgrounds. Many jobs require some work experience as well.
Hazardous materials removal workersThere is a higher concentration of hazardous materials removal workers in Alaska than in any other state. They are needed in various regions across the state.Although demand for these workers is declining in many parts of the country due to declining federal funds for cleaning up hazmat sites, the opportunities are higher in Alaska due to its large mining and extraction industries. The annual mean wage for these workers is $61,840, which is the highest in the country in 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).Problem sensitivity, oral comprehension, control precision, near vision, oral expressionMost hazmat removal workers need at least a high school diploma although an associate degree might be useful for those looking for work at a nuclear power plant.
Registered nursesRegistered nurses are in demand throughout Alaska.The demand for nurses in Alaska is largely driven by openings created by attrition and retirement. In Alaska the annual mean wage for nurses, according to the BLS, is $85,770, which was the third-highest in the country in 2014.Active listening, social perceptiveness service orientation, speaking, coordinationThere are three typical paths to becoming a registered nurse: A Bachelor’s of Science degree in nursing, an associate degree or a diploma from an approved nursing program.
Family and general practitionersAlaska needs primary care physicians throughout the state, but the most acute shortage is in the rural areas, where nearly one in five doctor positions are vacant.Alaska has the fifth-highest concentration of family and general practitioners in the country. It is also the second highest paying state for this job, with a mean annual salary for family doctors at $228,340, according to 2014 BLS data. Despite this, the growth of the state, the growing elderly population that is on Medicare, and the retirement of existing doctors have created a high demand for primary care doctors who accept patients on Medicare.Critical thinking, active listening, judgment and decision making, reading comprehension, writingDoctors need to have a bachelor’s degree, finish medical school and complete three to eight years of internship or residency.
Operating engineers and other construction equipment operatorsThe area around Fairbanks has 10 times as many operating engineers and other construction equipment operators as the national average, and most work in Alaska’s mining industry. The Railbelt area of southwest Alaska has a particularly high demand for these operators. Southeast Alaska also has a high demand.Gold, lead, zinc and silver mining are big in Alaska. The largest surface gold mine in the state is located in the Fairbanks North Star Borough, and the world’s largest zinc producer is the Red Dog Mine in northeast Alaska. According to the BLS, in 2014, employers in southwest Alaska were willing to pay one of the highest mean annual wages in the country for the profession ($63,320 annually). Salaries in southeast Alaska are even higher.Operation and control, operation monitoring, monitoring, coordination and equipment maintenanceOperating engineers and other construction equipment operators need a high school diploma. They learn the work through on-the-job training or through a vocational school.
Office and administrative support occupationsWhile office and administration support workers will be needed throughout Alaska, the highest demand is expected in the nonmetropolitan southeast and southwest parts of the state. According to the BLS, two of five areas in the country with the highest concentration of these jobs are in Alaska, including the Railbelt Region and the Kenai Peninsula.Alaska is growing, and the state estimates that about half of the new jobs in the state will be for workers with at least a bachelor’s degree. Many of those jobs require administrative support.Active listening, reading comprehension, speaking, service orientation, writingMost secretary jobs are available to applicants with a high school diploma. However, advanced training in legal or medical practices and terminology can help to get jobs in those fields.

Keep in mind that there’s no degree on the academic spectrum that comes with a guarantee of employment after graduation. However, students who focus their education according to the needs of the workforce may have a smoother transition between school and the working world.

Financial Aid in Alaska

A lot of factors can affect the cost of going to college — the size of the school, whether it is private or public, and the amount of aid from scholarships or grants a student can get. Regardless of those factors, the cost of universities in Alaska and the rest of the country have been climbing steadily in the last decade. The data below from College Board shows just how much things have changed.

  • Public 4-year, in-state tuition
    • 2004-05: $4,328
    • 2014-15: $9,751

Tuition and Fees in Alaska

Luckily, there are options for Alaskan students who can’t afford that price tag. One option is the Alaska Performance Scholarship, which can go to any student who takes a rigorous set of classes in high school, gets good grades and scores well on college placement exams. Up to $4,755 is available, depending on your test scores and grade-point average. The Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education also offers state education loans with low fixed rates of just over 6 percent and 0 percent origination fees.

Alaska also offers a variety of scholarships for individual students based on their field of study. The Jim Snead Memorial Scholarship supports Alaskans studying transportation, international business or related industries, for instance. There are also scholarships for athletes and artists.

The University of Alaska also offers general scholarships, major-specific scholarships and Honors College scholarships. Its website also lists a wide variety of state, national and private scholarships.

Article Sources


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