Students remain frustrated while UAA works to resolve education accreditation debacle

The University of Alaska Anchorage was notified on Jan. 11 that its education department had lost accreditation with the Council for the Accreditation of Education Preparation, or CAEP. The State of Alaska requires students graduate from a nationally accredited program to get a teaching license.

This week, UAA officials are meeting with the state Department of Education to determine the next steps for the college, leaving roughly 250 students affected by the loss of accreditation waiting for the university to address their concerns.

Nick Tabaczka is a UAA student in the Master of Education department. He plans on graduating in May 2019. (Photo by Daniel Hernandez, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)

Nick Tabaczka is in the Master of Arts in Teaching program and plans on graduating in May. He’s one of several students frustrated at the entire situation.

“What’s the famous meme/movie reference where it’s like… ‘You had one job,'” Tabaczka joked of UAA’s administration.

During a meeting between UAA Education Department Interim Director Claudia Dybdahl and students, she said the university was blindsided by the news. The results of the CAEP review stated that UAA failed four of the five standards required for accreditation. Tabaczka was at the meeting.

“You don’t get one out of five on your criteria when you’re pretty sure you’re going to get your accreditation,” Tabaczka said. “Either that or you’re clueless.”

Suzanne Snyder is a UAA Elementary Education major planning on graduating in May 2019. (Photo by Wesley Early, Alaska Public Media)

Elementary Education major Suzanne Snyder says she too was surprised by the loss of accreditation.

“I feel like I am prepared to become a teacher so what could the problem be?” Snyder said. “And then I looked into it and finally got more details after a while and realized most of these problems don’t seem to be with our program, with the classes, with the instructors, the faculty, the students.”

The results of the review show that most of the issues CAEP had with UAA’s education department had to do with providing data and evidence showing that their students were prepared.

Both Snyder and Tabaczka say the Anchorage School District, where both of them student teach, has reassured them they will be able to get jobs in the district after graduation. In light of UAA’s loss, the state announced that it would waive the national accreditation requirement for UAA students graduating in the spring and summer of this year, but Tabaczka says that doesn’t change the fact that his school is lacking accreditation.

“We still paid for the service and haven’t got the service,” Tabaczka said. “And that service is an accredited degree with that CAEP accreditation.”

Both Tabasczka and Snyder say they’ll soon start applying for jobs in Anchorage.

Mackenzie Lindeman is a sophomore at UAA. She was an Elementary Education major, but switched to English after UAA lost the national accreditation for its education department. (Photo by Wesley Early, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)

But students who aren’t set to graduate by this summer face more uncertainty. UAA has to wait until January 2020 before applying to be reaccredited. UAA sophomore Mackenzie Lindeman had planned to graduate as an elementary education major, but already changed her major due to the uncertainty of UAA’s education department.

“I felt like my options were either to transfer schools which, being already my third college, I just can’t even think about that,” Lindeman said. “Or switching my major because they have to wait a year before they could reapply, and then who knows how long that process would be? It took UAF five years to get reaccreditation, and I can’t just put all my marbles in a jar and hope. So I looked into an English major.”

Lindeman says she can still become a teacher one day by finishing her degree in English and then getting a Master of Arts in Teaching certificate, or MAT.

UAA has said its students have the option to transfer to either the University of Alaska Fairbanks or the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau to finish their degrees. Both colleges still have accredited education departments.

However, not all programs offered at UAA are available at the other two schools, and there is a limit to the number of credits that can transfer between the universities, something UAA chancellor Cathy Sandeen has said she wants to address.

Lindeman says students have begun to form Facebook groups to talk about their options.

“The overall feeling is just… everyone is just so angry, and we just feel so, speaking on behalf of everyone, hopeless,” Lindeman said. “People just don’t know where to turn or who to ask, because we don’t really trust anybody.”

Lindeman says students are talking about the potential for legal action to compensate them for the money and time spent at a university that failed to deliver on its promise of a teaching license from an accredited university.