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Community Perspective

Chambers of Commerce leaders support University of Alaska

As representatives of Alaska’s largest business communities and nonprofit organizations, we voice our support for the University of Alaska and the educational opportunities it offers to our students.

Alaska is a strong state, made stronger by the education and training of our young people. Our businesses and organizations need their minds and their skills to continue moving Alaska forward.

Since its inception in 1917, the University of Alaska has worked as a partner to businesses and industries — oil and gas, tourism, health care, construction and finance — and educated and trained the career professionals who fill those jobs. Many of our businesses are led or staffed by graduates from the University of Alaska, including our Alaska Native regional and village corporations, and Alaska’s nonprofit organizations.

Simply put, we rely on these bright young scholars to help lead Alaska.

The importance of a strong, local university system is the reason the Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau chambers had rallies in our communities recently. We wanted to illustrate the key role the university system plays in educating our youths and in our economy as those students fill jobs across the employment spectrum.

We recognize that state funding dictates change. Significant reductions must be made. The university is committed to that and has demonstrated that it has been instituting significant changes and will continue to do so. But time is needed to reduce costs in an effective and strategic way so that the underlying strength of the university is not compromised.

Our members and associate organizations recognize the value of hiring Alaskans. Students currently in the university system have the opportunity to engage in internships with future and potential employers. The university has a highly effective internship platform that connects employers with interns in a variety of fields.

There is much to be proud of with Alaska’s university system. Over the years, UA leaders have adapted programs to keep pace with technology, have adopted new ways to connect students with the best possible educational experience, and have continually innovated to produce research for companies and solutions that have solved problems.

The university offers its students a new virtual gateway to explore all information regarding choosing their degree program, exploring options offered by UA’s campuses, finding financial resources and those who can help them create a successful college path.

The university also offers high school students who graduate in the top 10% of their class a scholarship through the Alaska Scholars Program. This program, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, has produced more than 3,000 UA Scholars now employed around the state.

Look at this higher ed opportunity through the perspective of Alaska’s high school students. Those who are seeking a post-secondary education are invited to attend UA, many are eligible for scholarships made available through generous donors or dividends from UA’s own investments, and they can receive a degree tailored to their interests. In other words, they can receive their education close to home, cost effectively and stay in Alaska after graduation.

We all want our children to stay in Alaska where they can become successful professionals and leaders. In our state, educated citizens make a difference as teachers, welders, engineers, nurses, doctors, accountants, dental hygienists, engineers and entrepreneurs. The University of Alaska is the source of higher education and workforce training in Alaska, for Alaskans.

A strong university system provides future generations of Alaskans with a path to their own prosperity. We believe a strong university system is critical to Alaska’s future, to our children’s and grandchildren’s future and we encourage a responsible and realistic approach to the university’s budget.

The decision is ultimately up to our state elected officials, but the actions we take today will impact all of us for decades to come. Let’s make sure we maintain our focus on quality education in the 49th state. Support a strong University of Alaska.

Bruce Bustamante is president/CEO of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce. Craig Dahl is executive director of the Juneau Chamber of Commerce. Marisa Sharrah is president/CEO of the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce.

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