Proposal plans to transfer Mt. Edgecumbe to UAA

A proposal presented to the Alaska Joint Education Committee last week would transfer the state-operated boarding school Mt. Edgecumbe to the University of Alaska Anchorage. Currently a four-year high school, Mt. Edgecumbe would be converted into a three-year program run by the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program, ANSEP for short. Should the proposal be adopted, the Sitka school’s name would be changed to Mt. Edgecumbe ANSEP Acceleration High School.

ANSEP Vice Provost Herb Schroeder estimates that the plan could save the state $5.9 million a year. According to Schroeder’s PowerPoint presentation to Alaska legislators, the annual cost per student would be the same, but Alaska would only be paying for six years of high school and college rather than eight.  

Students in the school would have the opportunity to earn up to 46 Bachelor of Science credits. “Its purpose would be to prepare students to enter Bachelor of Science and Engineering degree programs. It’s not clear from the proposal what opportunities would continue to be available at Mt. Edgecumbe for students not interested in pursuing a science or engineering career,” UAA President Jim Johnsen wrote in a letter to Governor Walker.

In the letter, Johnsen stated that Schroeder believes that ANSEP’s success as a five-week program at UAA could carry over to the boarding school, and save the State money in the process. In his presentation to the legislature, Schroeder highlighted several statistics, such as the fact that 95 percent of ANSEP summer program graduates successfully transition to science or engineering degree programs. 95 percent of students also advance one or more level in math after a five-week session. “We must assess this proposal in light of our academic and other priorities, given our primary mission as a postsecondary institution,” Johnsen wrote. Johnsen noted that the proposal has yet to be presented to, and approved by, the University of Alaska. There are also a lot of details that would need to be ironed out. There are different state and federal rules, duties and liabilities for boarding schools and postsecondary institutions.

Mt. Edgecumbe Superintendent Bill Hutton against Schroeder’s idea. He said that both Mt. Edgecumbe and ANSEP have programs that are very valuable to rural Alaska’s students, but “one program should not be used at the expense of the other.”

Hutton received a call on January 19 from Department of Education Commissioner Mike Hanley notifying him of the proposal, about a week and a half before Schroeder presented it to the legislature. Hutton said he also received a call from Schroeder, but that the information he conveyed about his intentions was vague. “We haven’t been provided very much accurate information,” Hutton said.

Hutton characterized the response from the student population to Schroeder’s proposal as negative. “The students are very upset and stressed out about what the next year will bring, ” he said.

Less than 9 percent of students said that they would like to graduate in three years. Hutton said that though students enjoy schoolwork and learning, what they really love is interaction with each other. “Students really enjoy being social,” he said.

Last year, eight students from Nome attended Mt. Edgecumbe.

Mt. Edgecumbe students answered a variety of polls regarding the possible change. Of the 336 students surveyed, only 47, or 14 percent, said that they were interested in becoming engineers. Almost double that number, 84 students, said that they did not know what career path they would follow. The rest “are all over the board,” in what they want to study, Hutton said.

Another concern is the future of extracurricular activities, from varsity sports teams to clubs.  Hutton reported that 80 percent of students participate in sports, and 100 percent are involved with a team, a club or both. For seniors, the year is most likely the peak of their sports career.

The committee has not yet acted on the proposal. The idea first needs to be officially presented to the Board of Regents. Johnsen wrote that the hope is for the plan to be presented to the Governor’s office before the next legislative session.

Schroeder has not responded to The Nome Nugget’s request for comment.

Mount Edgecumbe High School, founded in 1947, currently has an enrollment of 421 students in grades 9 through 12. The majority of students, 90 percent, are Alaska Native, and many are from rural villages. The Bureau of Indian Affairs originally operated the school. After a yearlong closure in the 1980s, the State of Alaska reopened and took over operation of the school.

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