Although degree attainment in Alaska appears to be heading in the right direction, the state is still working feverishly to catch up with the rest of the country. As of 2013, 36.5 percent of Alaska adults ages 25-64 held a two-year degree or better, compared to 40 percent of adults on a national level.
Part of the reason degree attainment is lagging in the state is the high percentage of adults who started college but did not finish. According to a recent study from the Lumina Foundation, 28.09 percent of Alaska adults had some college experience but no degree in 2013, along with 28.46 percent who only possessed a high school diploma. In contrast, 8.73 percent held an associate degree, 18.80 percent had a bachelor's, and 8.94 percent held a graduate or professional degree that year.
Fortunately, there are several institutions of higher education in Alaska that can help students begin a new degree program or finish one they already started. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 10 colleges, universities, and trade schools exist in the state. While most of these institutions offer traditional, on-campus instruction, others boast a combination of traditional and online degree options. Continue reading to learn more about higher education in the state, as well as top industries, popular college towns and schools, and potential career options.
Why Should I Earn a Degree in Alaska?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Alaska's workforce was made up of 324,970 individuals in 2014. Together, they earned a mean annual wage of $54,040 that year, which works out to approximately $25.98 per hour.
Although many careers in Alaska show huge potential, some jobs for college graduates offer higher levels of employment and exceptional wages. The chart below highlights some of the most prominent careers for college graduates in the state:
Number of Workers
|Office and Administrative Support Occupations||52,420||$43,380|
|Food Preparation and Serving Related Occupations||28,340||$28,500|
|Sales and Related Occupations||26,440||$37,260|
|Transportation and Material Moving Occupations||23,510||$52,460|
|Construction and Extraction Occupations||21,790||$67,210|
|Education, Training, and Library Occupations||21,460||$62,160|
|Installation, Maintenance, and Repair Occupations||16,800||$60,290|
|Healthcare Practitioners and Technical Occupations||16,510||$95,720|
|Business and Financial Operations Occupations||14,020||$77,580|
|Personal Care and Service Occupations||12,590||$32,020|
|Building and Grounds Cleaning and Maintenance Occupations||11,360||$32,490|
|Healthcare Support Occupations||8,120||$44,210|
With breathtaking mountains, rugged terrain, and a diverse array of wildlife, Alaska is a paradise for outdoor lovers. Its economy is dominated by oil, natural gas, and fishing, due to its natural abundance of those resources. In addition to the exploitation of natural resources, tourism also plays a huge part in the state's economy. Whether for fishing and hiking or general exploration, millions of tourists visit Alaska each year.
Despite the state's large landmass, more than half of Alaska's residents are clustered within the Anchorage metropolitan area. The bulk of the remaining population lives near the popular cities of Fairbanks, Juneau, and Sitka. However, thousands of Alaskans live far from city centers and out in the open Alaskan plains on homesteads.
Fortunately, plenty of jobs exist for Alaska residents who choose to earn a living in traditional careers. The Alaska Department of Labor predicts exceptional growth for a number of industries through 2022. The following industries might see the most jobs added during this timeframe, according to government employment projections:
- Healthcare and Social Assistance, Public and Private: 11,247
- Management of Companies and Enterprises: 510
- Mining (Including Oil and Gas): 3,374
- Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services: 2,458
- Wholesale Trade: 944
- Administrative and Support Waste Management and Remediation Services: 1,590
- Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation: 556
- Accommodation and Food Services: 3,280
Adults who want to earn a degree in Alaska will find an existing infrastructure for online education. Included is the University of Alaska system, which has campuses in Fairbanks, Anchorage, and the Southeast, and offers an array of degrees that can be completed entirely online or in a hybrid fashion. Meanwhile, traditional and online education in Alaska remains extremely affordable. According to recent figures from the College Board, the average tuition cost at a public, four-year, in-state school was only $6,571 for the 2015-16 school year.
While Alaska may not automatically come to mind when you picture yourself earning a degree and settling down, it offers a number of extremely rewarding perks you can't get elsewhere. Here are some interesting facts about the state that we bet you didn't know:
- Love water? There are three million lakes in Alaska, along with 3,000 separate rivers.
- Aurora borealis, also known as the northern lights, can be seen 243 days a year in certain regions of the state.
- With a population density of just one person per square mile, Alaska is the perfect place for someone who wants to carve out their own territory.
- The state of Alaska is home to 17 of the 20 highest mountain peaks in the entire United States.
- Airport Pizza, located in Alaska, is the only pizza company in the U.S. that makes pizza deliveries by plane.
What Makes Alaska Ideal for Online Education?
According to Carol Gering, Executive Director of eLearning and Distance Education at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, online degree programs put students in control of their own educational aspirations.
"An online degree from the University of Alaska Fairbanks allows students outside the area to choose from a variety of programs and courses without leaving their home," says Gering, adding that online programs also give students the freedom to manage other life duties as well as their education.
But, that's not the only reason distance learning is ideal in Alaska, notes Gering. "Finally, online courses broaden student perspectives by engaging them with peers across the state and around the world."
One of the biggest reasons students lean towards online education in Alaska is because they are already in the workforce or raising a family -- oftentimes both simultaneously. Online programs offer a type of flexibility that appeals to many, especially those balancing work, family, life, and their education.
Further, students who have geographic barriers to attending a traditional college in Alaska are in the majority, not the minority. In a state with a population so spread out, distance learning has become a crucial component of higher education. Where only a portion of Alaska college students live close enough to a campus to attend class in-person, online education is accessible to anyone with a viable internet connection.
The University of Alaska Fairbanks offers 20 online degree programs on its own. Several other institutions in the state, including more schools from the UA system, have online options as well.
At the end of the day, online education is a great alternative for Alaska students because it broadens their choices and increases educational access so that nearly anyone can pursue a college degree. And in a rural and wild state such as Alaska, many students have learned to rely on those additional options to get ahead.
""Alaska is home to a diverse population to which the traditional college setting is not always an option,"" notes Gering. "UAF prides itself on serving Native Alaskans in their home communities, military families who need a degree they can travel with, and our unique workforce that keeps our state progressing forward."
Popular Degrees in Alaska
While plenty of careers in Alaska could see exceptional growth in the coming decade, some have more potential than others. Using data from the Department of Labor, we created this list of top degrees in the state based on income and projected employment through 2022:
Due to the ongoing demand for dental care, employment of dental hygienists in Alaska is expected to increase 28 percent from 2012 to 2022. Dental hygiene students can typically enter the workforce after just two years of full-time study, and possibly work their way up to earning $75,670 a year, the mean annual wage for this profession in 2014.
Nurse midwives work with new mothers before, during, and after delivery, providing support at every stage of the birthing process. Prerequisites for this profession typically include completing a master's degree program and working as a registered nurse. Job openings for nurse midwives are projected to increase by as much as 28 percent in Alaska between 2012 and 2022. High wages have helped make this degree option exceptionally popular among students. According to the BLS, nurse midwives in Alaska earned a mean annual wage of $101,350 in 2014.
Diagnostic Medical Sonography
Like many other fields in the health care industry, the use of diagnostic medical sonography is on the rise. That's especially true in Alaska, where employment of diagnostic medical sonographers is estimated to grow 23 percent through 2022. As of 2014, these professionals earned a mean annual wage of $82,740 in the state.
A degree in art could pay off in a number of ways both in Alaska and beyond. Many students who earn this degree go on to work as multimedia artists or animators, careers projected to see a 23 percent rise in employment in Alaska through 2022.
Radiologic technology is another health care field that is booming in Alaska. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job openings for radiologic technologists could increase by as much as 22 percent from 2012 to 2022. As of 2014, these workers earned a mean annual wage of $68,870 in the state.
Mining and Geological Engineering
Because Alaska is home to so many of our nation's natural resources, professionals are needed to help government agencies and private businesses access them. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that employment of mining and geological engineers will rise 21 percent in Alaska between 2012 and 2022.
Health Care Administration
While the field of health care relies heavily on technical workers, administrative professionals who manage health care facilities are also in high demand. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, job opportunities for medical and health services managers could increase by as much as 20 percent through 2022. A degree in public health or health care administration is the fastest way to find entry-level employment in this line of work.
Registered nursing continues to employ large numbers of workers in Alaska, but those numbers could grow even larger over the coming decade. According to government employment projections, job openings for registered nurses should increase 20 percent in Alaska from 2012 to 2022. The fact that the mean annual wage for this profession was $85,740 in 2014 only adds to the popularity of this degree choice.
Dietetics and Nutrition
As more and more individuals rely on dietitians for advice on healthy living and eating, the demand for these professionals continues to rise. Government agencies predict that job openings for dietitians could increase by as much as 19 percent from 2012 to 2022. High wages also add to the overall value of this major. As of 2014, dietitians and nutritionists earned a mean annual wage of $63,470 in Alaska.
Students who love animals may want to consider a future career in veterinary technology. According to U.S. Department of Labor projections, employment of these workers will rise 19 percent between 2012 and 2022. Veterinary technologists and technicians in Alaska earned a mean annual wage of $40,970 in 2014, which adds to the potential return-on-investment of this degree choice.
Top Cities for Alaska College Students
With a population of 301,010 in 2014, Anchorage is Alaska's largest city by far. Further, the inhabitants of this municipality make up more than 40 percent of the state's entire population. The city is part of the Anchorage metropolitan area, and has its own airport and sea port which receives the bulk of goods meant for consumption in Alaska.
Key industries in Anchorage include transportation, military installations, government, and tourism. The median household income in Anchorage worked out to $77,454 in 2013, which is around 10 percent higher than the average for the state. Approximately 32.8 percent of Anchorage adults held a bachelor's degree or higher in 2013, while 92.5 percent possessed at least a high school diploma.
Anchorage is home to four institutions of higher education, including these top schools:
Alaska Career College
As a private, two-year school, Alaska Career College offers career-specific degrees and certificates in a number of technical fields. Approximately 479 students were enrolled in 2014 (all undergraduate), a year when tuition averaged out to $14,290. Popular programs include:
- Aircraft Dispatching
- Phlebotomy Technician Certification
- Associate of Applied Science in Business Administration
Alaska Pacific University
Alaska Pacific University offers nine bachelor's degrees and eight master's programs for students interested in liberal arts, science, or technology. Approximately 579 students were enrolled in 2014, and each enjoyed an intimate learning experience with a student-to-faculty ratio of just 7:1. Tuition and fees for the 2014-15 school year were around $19,610. Here are a few of the school's popular degree options:
- Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science
- Bachelor of Arts in Creative and Professional Writing
- Master of Science in Counseling Psychology
University of Alaska - Anchorage
As the state's largest institution of higher education, the University of Alaska-Anchorage boasted an enrollment of 17,151 in 2014. Tuition and fees for in-state students worked out to only $5,494 for the 2014-15 school year, and the school offers everything from associate degrees to graduate programs. Popular degrees include:
- Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education
- Associate of Applied Science in Computer Information and Office Systems
- Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering
Although Juneau is Alaska's state capital, it isn't the state's largest city by population or land mass. According to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, Juneau was home to 32,406 residents as of 2014.
With dramatic mountain backdrops and an urban vibe, the city is popular among locals and the many tourists that visit annually. A popular cruising destination, Juneau is inundated with cruise ship passengers for months during the warm, peak travel season. Other key industries in the area include government, health care, and fishing.
Wages in Juneau are higher than average, with the median household income reaching $81,490 in 2013. Housing prices are on the higher end as well, however. Through 2013, the median housing value in the Juneau area was around $309,900.
Approximately 36.7 percent of Juneau adults possessed a bachelor's degree in 2013, while 95.5 percent held a high school diploma or better. The area is home to the following institution of higher education:
University of Alaska - Southeast
With a main campus in Juneau, the University of Alaska-Southeast offers a wide array of on-campus and online degrees for students to choose from. Approximately 2,989 students were enrolled in 2014, and each enjoyed a wide selection of undergraduate and graduate programs. University of Alaska-Southeast offers the largest number of online degrees in Alaska, with 45 different programs that can be completed in a flexible, online format. Some popular degree options include:
- Online Bachelor of Business Administration
- Online Associate of Applied Science in Law Enforcement
- Bachelor of Business Administration in Accounting
According to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, Fairbanks was home to 32,469 residents in 2014. Still, it is the largest city on the interior of Alaska, and home to extensive air, rail, and road connections that help the entire state maintain its connection to the outside world.
In addition to transportation, Fairbanks also relies heavily on tourism. Each year, thousands of tourists purchase transportation packages that bring them into Fairbanks for a day of sightseeing and spending. Many travelers come to Fairbanks to witness the Northern Lights, a nighttime spectacle which projects pops of color into the cold, arctic skyline.
The median household income in Fairbanks was only $54,781 through 2013, which was considerably less than the average for the state. Housing values reflect this disparity, however. In 2013, the median housing value in Fairbanks was just $195,400, compared to the state average of $241,800.
One institution of higher education resides in Fairbanks, and it happens to be the state's oldest and most-established:
University of Alaska - Fairbanks
The University of Alaska at Fairbanks is part of the UA system, and home to almost 10,000 students from all over the state and the world. In-state students enjoyed affordable tuition and fees that averaged out to just $5,246 for the 2014-15 school year, and many opted for one of the school's popular online degree programs. Popular majors for incoming freshman in 2015 included biomedical sciences, mechanical engineering, and petroleum engineering, among others. The school is also known for the following programs:
- Bachelor of Business Administration in Accounting
- Bachelor of Science in Computer Science
- Bachelor of Science in Mining Engineering
Scholarships and Financial Aid
Various types of federal financial aid may be available to you depending on your income and other factors. Once you've narrowed down your list of schools, you'll want to fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA form, as your first step to securing the most state and federal aid possible. Types of federal aid can include Pell Grants, Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants, Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grants, or Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants.
The Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education also lists a number of state-based aid opportunities on its website, including the Alaska Education Grant and the Alaska Performance Scholarship. Both of these aid options are available to Alaska residents who meet certain criteria in terms of income and achievement.
Additionally, Alaska offers a number of unique loan programs that limit student's out-of-pocket costs and keep interest charged at a minimum. Students interested in online degrees in Alaska should explore all federal and state-based aid and loan programs before enrolling, as well as inquire with their school's financial aid office about additional aid opportunities.
A Stronger Nation through Higher Education, Lumina Foundation, Alaska, http://strongernation.luminafoundation.org/report/#alaska
Alaska 2012-2022 Industry Projections, Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Research and Analysis, http://laborstats.alaska.gov/indfcst/indfcst.htm
College Navigator, National Center for Education Statistics, https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
Fastest Growing Occupations, CareerOneStop, U.S. Department of Labor, Alaska, http://acinet.org/oview1.asp?next=oview1&Level=edu4&optstatus=&jobfam=&id=1&nodeid=3&soccode=&stfips=02&ShowAll=
Financial Aid, Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education, http://acpe.alaska.gov/FINANCIAL_AID
May 2014 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Alaska, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_ak.htm
State & County QuickFacts, U.S. Census Bureau, Anchorage, http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/02/0203000.html
State & County QuickFacts, U.S. Census Bureau, Juneau, http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/02/0236400.html
State & County QuickFacts, U.S. Census Bureau, Fairbanks, http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/02/0224230.html
Tuition and Fees by Sector and State over Time, College Board, http://trends.collegeboard.org/college-pricing/figures-tables/tuition-and-fees-sector-and-state-over-time-1