“UAS Sitka was probably impacted less than 99-percent of the college campuses across the country,” says campus director Dr. Paul Kraft, “because remote is what we’re really good at.” (UAS photo)

Sitka’s campus of the University of Alaska Southeast is closed to the public, but education is happening there — at greater levels than anyone expected.

Dr. Paul Kraft is the UAS Sitka campus director. During a presentation for the Sitka Chamber of Commerce Fall Speaker Series earlier this month (12-9-20), he said that enrollment is 750 students. He credited the strong numbers to the fact that the campus already had a well-established distance-learning program in place when the pandemic struck in March of this year.

Here’s an excerpt of his remarks:

Kraft — UAS Sitka was probably impacted less than 99-percent of the college campuses across the country, because remote is what we’re really good at. Another impact of COVID-19 is that when students were looking for online classes, UAS Sitka was one of the main players in the state of Alaska. So when students were looking through the menu of options, Sitka was one of the relatively few that they could choose from. Now, everybody’s in that pond, and that pond has become very crowded. So there’s been some kind of jostling back-and-forth of who’s going to teach this class, who’s delivering that — it’s something that’s added to the complexity of an already-complicated organization. However, I’m an optimistic person, and I see in the midst of challenges opportunities: As a result of COVID, many more students have become exposed to online education at the university level. Because we do it so well, my hope is that as we move forward and move out of the COVID-19 situation, some of those students will have had good experiences, and they will continue to see us as an option, where before they weren’t aware that we were around.

Kraft said that the University system was halfway through a three-year budget reduction negotiated with Gov. Mike Dunleavy in 2019. Although faculty numbers are about the same, campus staff positions have been cut from 26 to 15. The state’s financial contribution has been cut by about $1 million, forcing the campus to make up the difference with grants and increases in tuition — the latter, said Kraft, is something “no one likes to see.”

The overall budget for the Sitka campus is $4.3 million. Kraft, who started in the position in June, said maintaining enrollment will be his “job-one” in the coming year.