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The harsh winters and short days are no match for Alaska's efforts to bring distance education to students in the state. Even though broadband Internet is limited in rural areas, Alaska is continuing to develop its online classes and the technology helpful to accessing them.

Online Colleges in Alaska

The state of Alaska has a long tradition of relying on distance education to provide schooling to its citizens. Given the state's remote areas and its harsh winters, distance education has played a significant role in Alaska education at both the K-12 and the post-secondary level.

According to the 2012 "Keeping Pace" report (kpk12.com/reports), Alaska has offered a variety of distance options to its students for many years, but the 2011 launch of Alaska's Learning Network (aklearn.net) brought together distance programs from around the state for all Alaska students. In 2010, the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development awarded $1.2 million to establish a consortium of Alaska school districts to develop Alaska's Learning Network, which now includes all 54 school districts.

Alaska has a wealth of non-profit associations that share the goals of promoting and expanding distance learning opportunities, improving the technology needed to deliver it, and educating teachers to offer virtual classes at online colleges in Alaska. The Alaska Society for Technology in Education (aste.org) was established in 1981 to promote access to technology, connectivity to information resources, and technology integration for Alaskan learners. The Alaska Distance Education Consortium's mission (akdec.net) is to develop a long-term distance education and technology strategic plan that expands distance education opportunities and Alaska's information technology infrastructure.

According to a report by the AKDEC, broadband internet access is limited in the state of Alaska, preventing students from obtaining online degrees. The state has embarked on a mission, named Bridge the e-Skills Gap, to rectify the problem. It is an innovative proposal by a powerful group of partners from the education and government sectors to promote technology literacy and training in hard-to-reach populations in rural Alaska.

Trends in Alaska Online Schools

Alaska's Learning Network helps improve student achievement through online learning and professional development opportunities. Classes are available for both high school and college credit, and a variety of courses are available, including computer literacy and introduction to mining occupations and operations. Registration for the classes must be done by an Alaska school official, but classes are open to all students. Alaska Staff Development Network (virtualeduc.com/asdn) realizes that online education is not only for students, but also for teachers. In conjunction with Alaska Pacific University, ASDN offers continuing education for teachers online or via CD-ROM.

The Consortium Library (consortiumlibrary.org), a collaboration between the University of Alaska Anchorage and Alaska Pacific University, gives students access to a large database of ebooks and journal articles. The State Library Electronic Doorway (sled.alaska.edu/about) provides a public service, offering access to electronic information. The Digital Pipeline includes information from magazines, journals, newspapers and selected references sources.

College Degrees in Alaska

According to data from the Lumina Foundation (luminafoundation.org), by 2025 Alaska may need an additional 64,630 college graduates in order to meet the needs of the marketplace. In order to close that gap Alaska has invested in distance education, which could help play a role in giving the state's workforce access to degree programs. However, online schools in Alaska might not be available to all students, as less than 10 percent of students in Alaska have access to fast broadband connections, according to research from the non-profit organization Keeping Pace (kpk12.com/states/alaska).

According to the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development (labor.state.ak.us), the state is expected to add 4,200 new jobs statewide in 2013. As reported in the January 2013 "Alaska Economic Trends: Employment Forecast for 2013" report, the oil and gas industry is expected to remain solid, as is its health care industry, which is expected to create 1,500 jobs in 2013.

Many positions in the health care industry require at least a two-year degree or a certificate, and online colleges in Alaska now increasingly offer classes in the sciences. For instance, the University of Alaska Southeast offers certificates in health information management coding and healthcare privacy and security, as well as an associate's degree in health information management.

Online Colleges in Alaska

The three main campuses of the University of Alaska System, which has been delivering distance education classes for almost three decades (alaska.edu/distance/programs.html), provide undergraduate and graduate degrees, certificates, occupational endorsements and courses. Some of these may be completed entirely online or in blended formats. Master's degrees include some that may not frequently be found online, such as those in cross-cultural studies, project management, rural development, and many others.

The three campuses of the University of Alaska Southeast (uas.alaska.edu/future/shared-popups/distance-listing.html) offer many courses through e-learning using a variety of formats. Students may select from online courses and degrees including accounting, entrepreneurship, marketing, mathematics, public administration, and many others. A water and wastewater operator training certificate is also available online through the University of Alaska Southeast and the Alaska Training/Technical Assistance Center.

Sources:
Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Employment Forecast for 2013, 2013
Alaska Society for Technology in Education
Alaska Staff Development Network
Broadband Technologies Opportunities Program
Keeping Pace K-12, Data and information
University of Alaska, Distance Learning
University of Alaska, Programs Offered by Distance at UA
University of Alaska Southeast, eLearning and Distance Education
University of Alaska Southeast, eLearning Degree Listing

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