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Northwest Campus Renovations Increase Services and Bring New Challenges

Director of UAF Northwest Campus Bob Metcalf says the focus remains on increasing access for students as their 5-year renovation plan continues. Photo: Davis Hovey, KNOM (2017)

In the midst of a declining budget and a sizable state deficit, UAF Northwest Campus continues its 5-year renovation plan. The U.S. Department of Education awarded the campus a 7.5 million dollar grant for the renovations. KNOM’s Davis Hovey reports:

UAF Northwest Campus’s director, Bob Metcalf, showed me around campus and the latest room to be renovated, the library, also known as the student resource building. While the library was being renovated, the issue of lack of space arose, and Metcalf expects that same issue will a problem again.

“The student resource center that we renovated, one of the biggest issues we had — and we are going to have this next project, too — is demobilizing important buildings,” Metcalf said. “What are we going to do with a collection of 10,000 books, what are we going do with not having that space, the furniture, and the capacity that’s all in there?”

Metcalf says that NWC services and classes could be reduced during the upcoming fall semester while the next batch of renovations is going on. Northwest Campus instructed about 1,300 students last year; that doesn’t include students in the region taking online classes, and those 1,300 contributed upwards of $300,000 to the university’s budget.

Metcalf says the definition of a student at UAF Northwest Campus can be broken down into three different categories.

“How the university measures a student is anyone who takes a class (who) resides wherever it resides, so whether it’s a Northwest Campus course, or whether it’s a Kuskokwim campus course, or whether it’s a UAF course, that’s an instructional student,” explained Metcalf. “Then, there’s a course degree; for instance, we have students who take our courses who aren’t a Northwest Campus degree student, and then, there’s the term that’s been used periodically is ‘service.’”

A “service” student relies on some of the shared services or programs that Northwest Campus provides for all of its students, like the opportunity to remotely participate in UAA’s nursing program. Due to a shrinking budget, however, some services and positions have been cut.

Metcalf says the library attendant was dropped, preventing students from being able to check out books. Other faculty positions have suffered as well. Northwest Campus used to have nine full-time faculty positions when it was a community college; that has now been reduced to two full-time faculty with other staff members.

Metcalf says that despite staffing challenges, Northwest Campus’s focus remains on increasing access for students.

“So, we defray the cost of some of our courses, and then, on top of that, we are allowed to offer tuition waivers. We try to be very strategic about that. We want to increase access; I mean, that’s the whole thing. We want money not to be a barrier for people to do stuff,” said Metcalf.

Since construction in western Alaska is dependent on the weather and seasons, the upcoming work to consolidate and renovate four classrooms is expected to begin in May of this year.