Alaska Pacific University to become tribal college

The Alaska Pacific University board of trustees voted Dec. 19 to partner with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium to transform the small Anchorage-based university into a tribal college.  

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The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium is part of a statewide network of tribal health organizations. It trains mid-level dental health aides, community health aides and water and sewer plant operators, among others.

Alaska Pacific University Trustee John Wanamaker said that experience is valuable anywhere there are sparsely populated rural areas.

“It’s more than just local, and the opportunity is such that I see the ability to attract students and people from all over the globe to the university — basically leveraging off the expertise and excellence at ANTHC and incredible reputation ANTHC developed in delivering rural health,” Wanamaker said.

Wanamaker said APU has struggled to bring in enough students to cover operating expenses. Generous donors fill the gap, and he said the school is not in a fiscal crisis.

Still, ANTHC chief of staff LeeAnn Garrick said ANTHC funding will give the university stronger footing, and a chance to grow.

“ANTHC has, as part of our partnership, contributed funding to help the university, to give the university some stability,” Garrick said. “And then also some of that funding will be used to look at additional expansion of programs to one end could be a tribal college, moving in that direction.”

Garrick said ANTHC and APU will be working out the specifics of moving forward and come up with a transition plan within the next 90 days. But she said the timeline is not as important as the nature of what they create.

“The tribal college distinction is important to us because tribal colleges are…  it’s a model that would infuse our traditions and values into that curriculum,” Garrick said. “APU being, liking that model and wanting to look into that approach is very attractive to us.”

One of the first steps to transforming APU is to put a dozen or so tribal health leaders on the APU board, which Wanamaker called a welcome prospect.

What we’re most excited about is the energy and enthusiasm of  the ANTHC leadership team and new trustees coming on the board of the APU, the statewide representation of the new trustees, mind you,” Wanamaker said. “That level of enthusiasm, energy and intellect is going to develop great things.”

Alaska has one tribal college now, Ilisagvik College in Utqiagvik, the town formerly known as Barrow. 

Joaqlin Estus is a reporter at KNBA in Anchorage.

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