Amid UA budget woes, some students are noticing increased military recruitment

An Alaska Army National Guard recruiting and retention section chief stands ready to greet students Oct. 17, 2017, at Mt. Edgecumbe High School, Sitka, Alaska. (Public domain photo by Sgt. David Bedard/U.S. Army National Guard)

Amid the University of Alaska’s budget woes, targeted ads from out-of-state universities have appeared on social media, encouraging Alaska students to enroll.

Some UA students say they’re hearing more from military recruiters as well.

Leilani Oathout is about to begin her senior year at the University of Alaska Anchorage. She receives both the Alaska Performance Scholarship and an Alaska Education Grant, about $4,500 altogether each school year.

In early July, she and 12,000 other Alaska students were told the state didn’t have funds available to pay those scholarships. Oathout said in the days after she was notified, she started seeing ads on Facebook from other colleges.

“And then I randomly got an email in my inbox for recruiting for the Army,” she said. “And I didn’t think (anything) of it until I got a second email in my spam folder.”

The emails — one from the Army, another from the National Guard — touted benefits like tuition assistance and cash bonuses.

The Alaska Legislature passed a bill on Monday that would restore scholarship funding. It moves now to Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s desk. But with all the university budget uncertainty, Oathout said she understands the attention from recruiters.

“That’s pretty smart that they’re targeting students. But I also feel super bad. Like, I don’t think this is a good route the state is going down,” Oathout said.

Joey Sweet, 26, is pursuing a master’s degree in public administration at UAA. He said he’s received military recruitment emails in the past, but typically about one a year. He said he received three of them within eight days in July. He doesn’t think it’s a coincidence.

“I mean, I think the emails really speak for themselves,” Sweet said. “The one Army email straight up said in the subject line something like, ‘Hey, do you need a backup plan?’”

The subject line read: “A Back up Plan? Secondary Income? Benefits?”

Sweet said he has a lot of respect for the military and that it’s a good option for many students, but he thinks using UA’s budget crisis as a recruiting tactic is inappropriate.

The Army has seen an increase in interest in the last few weeks from Alaska high school graduates, including UA students, but James Puckett, station commander at the recruiting office in Anchorage, said the Army hasn’t changed its outreach.

“My team is not messaging any differently than it has been before,” Puckett said. “We’ve had email campaigns in the past, and we’ve targeted the same market. There’s not been an increase in our marketing or our specific targeting to these areas.”

Puckett said Army recruiters, as always, are letting students know they have options.

“Our message is pretty clear, you know. Check the Army out, and our incentives and educational opportunities,” he said.

This week, the Legislature passed a bill that would undo many of the governor’s line-item vetoes to the operating budget, returning most of what he cut from the UA system. But Dunleavy has indicated more vetoes are likely.

The UA Board of Regents voted Tuesday to move forward with restructuring the university system to a single accredited university.

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