University of Alaska (Fairbanks) Distance Learning

The University of Alaska Fairbanks exists as the ”northernmost land, sea, and space grant institution”, one of the only triple crown institutes in the country (meaning they get money for land, sea, and space programs of research). The “crown jewel” of the three Alaska colleges, it was established in 1917 and has become home not only to northern academic seekers, but is also stands as a major research institution, partially owing to its location 200 miles north of the Arctic circle (perfect for… well, arctic research).

UAF enrolls about 11,000 students from all 50 states and 47 countries, offering its primarily undergrad student body (89% of enrollees) a wealth of degree options and majors of study, though many are Alaska/arctic related subjects essential for the state’s needs. There are currently 168 degrees offered at UAF, from Associate to PhD (the only school to grant multiple doctoral degrees in the state), as well as another 33 professional or graduate certifications. Popular majors include biological sciences and emergency services, but typical programs like elementary education and business administration are also taken often.

Distance learning has been going on in Alaska for some time now, though not with the internet until recently. The Independent Learning Program at UAF is the “oldest distance delivery program at the University of Alaska”, offering education to remote geographic locations through correspondence for over forty years. All correspondence are full credit courses, with over 100 different classes to choose from, though no completely distance learning degrees can be gotten through correspondence, or online for that matter, but many of the required courses for degrees can be taken through this method. Also, in today’s high tech world, correspondence doesn’t have to go through snail mail, as many teachers allow submission through email or fax.

In addition, there are a number of online classes offered each semester (including summer), with new courses added constantly. Again, there are no completely online degrees for distance learners, but many of the core courses and required classes are available to take on the web. Teacher certifications are also partially available for distance learners, with Alaskan Studies and Multicultural Education courses. Blackboard is used to facilitate online classes, of which many are Alaska specific courses like Introduction to Fisheries and Native Cultures of Alaska, but it is not the limit and there are between 20-30 courses per semester (less in the summer).

Independent learning courses are offered to any comers (you don’t have to be an UAF student), at reduced costs from normal tuition. Online education is made possible through email and discussion forums, with online library access and advisement, as well as the ability to order books/materials over the Net. There are live chats and links to numerous social media as well, so the isolation of Alaskan living doesn’t have to inhibit education and group learning.

Research is heavily funded and encouraged at UAF, bringing in about $114 million in grants and research dollars. Working closely with faculty (which stands at about a 12-1 teacher/student ratio), students are encouraged to participate and create programs in the university’s seven different research departments, giving experiential education in addition to solid classroom learning.

For those snowbirds that enjoy the quiet of a country school, but want all the perks of a large university, UAF stands as the example, an institution of higher learning that’s about as far north as one can get without risking severe frostbite of the brain.

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