Ilisagvik News & Events
Located in Utqiagvik (Barrow), Alaska, Ilisagvik College is Alaska’s only tribal college. The institution serves the remote region of the North Slope Borough (NSB), a locale whose population is over 80% Iñupiaq. It is also a region well endowed with natural beauty and resources. Contrary to popular belief, the oil field sector is not the only source of employment on the North Slope. In fact, the majority of North Slope residents are employed in the areas of local governance, education, health services, non-oil field construction, hospitality and tourism, transportation, and utility distribution. Accordingly, job creation on the North Slope requires a multi-faceted approach.
Ilisagvik College offers quality post-secondary education to the residents on the North Slope and in greater Alaska. The institution is a small, studentfocused college continually searching for ways to add programs that will enhance future employment opportunities for residents of the region. On the North Slope, Ilisagvik College has been providing vocational education instruction since its inception in 1995. The college works towards this goal in a variety of ways. First, the college offers courses that enhance employee skills that lead to employment within the existing local North Slope job market. The college helps those already employed to gain the needed credentials and expertise for promotion into jobs currently filled by outside hires.
Another way the college is helping to improve employment opportunities is by supporting local employers in creating new job openings. This year, for instance, Ilisagvik College has added a fully accredited, four-year business degree to its degree offerings. However, acknowledging that a two- or four-year academic program does not fill the needs of all residents, as part of the college’s mission it has kept vocational education and skilled trades as a cornerstone of its program offerings. Local stakeholders stress the need for skilled trade employees, and local residents desire a flexible program that allows them to fulfill family, community, and subsistence commitments.
Ilisagvik College reviewed its vocational education program and, with stakeholder input, made the commitment to sponsor apprenticeships. These apprenticeships, which cover a wide variety of careers and skills from healthcare to building energy weatherization improvements, will provide North Slope residents with a stepladder to higher levels of employment and higher wages. Apprenticeships are a path to better employment through greater skills and accreditations that can be carried wherever the apprentice may go in the future. They provide employers with a much more highly skilled local workforce, thus enabling them to promote from within for positions that are now filled by outside hires. Equally important for the future of the North Slope is to retain a skilled workforce. Studies show that most local residents who receive advanced accreditations at Ilisagvik choose to stay on the North Slope near family, friends, and their subsistence activities.
In general, an apprenticeship is a partnership between an employer and a training facility. Because this is an employer-generated program, students are full-time employees from day one of their apprenticeship. The employer provides the apprentice with on-the-job experience needed to fulfill apprenticeship requirements while the college offers the academic instruction, often called related technical instruction (RTI). Other apprenticeships are registered through the U.S. Department of Labor. A registered apprenticeship connects job seekers looking to learn new skills with employers looking for qualified workers. In order to have a registered apprenticeship, an organization or employer must submit a sponsorship application to the Department of Labor that details the organization’s workforce demographics, the proposed wage scale, job expectations, and the proposed RTI material. A sponsorship can be a single employer or a consortium of employers all agreeing to the same sponsorship terms. Over the past year, the Department of Labor came to Utqiagvik to talk with interested partners about establishing apprenticeships. The discussions were well received and potential areas of interest ranged from the traditional skilled trades to pre-apprenticeships in our high schools.
The first hurdle for the North Slope labor market was to determine who holds the sponsorship. Through multiple meetings with stakeholders and the Department of Labor, it was determined the best avenue to serve employers and residents of the North Slope was for Ilisagvik College to be the regional training center for apprenticeships and for the institution to hold the sponsorships. By acting as sponsor, it would allow the college to make uniform agreements with regional employers, streamline the reporting processes, and further encourage residents to gain college credentials. In the early application stage, many organizations expressed interest, but two organizations in particular were eager to get apprenticeships started: the North Slope Borough Weatherization Program and Ukpeagvik Iñupiat Corporation (UIC).
The Weatherization Program, headed by Griffin Hagle, is charged with reducing energy costs for low-income households in the borough through home modifications that increase energy efficiency and improve health and safety. The program gives priorities to elders, people with disabilities, and North Slope families with young children. The Ukpeagvik Iñupiat Corporation is the Alaska Native village corporation for Barrow, Alaska, which provides social and economic resources to over 2,900 Iñupiat shareholders and their descendants. Both companies have been instrumental in creating Ilisagvik College’s apprentice sponsorships.
“Griffin Hagle, with NSB Weatherization, helped spearhead the creation of apprentice positions at the borough,” explains Dean Brown. “As Griffin worked with NSB Human Resources to create hiring tiers, Griffin and the college worked together to create the Building Energy Retrofit Technician sponsorship. UIC has helped revitalize the skilled trades of electrical, carpentry, and plumbing. These two [organizations] were the catalyst to our sponsorships.”
In discussing the benefits of programs like the apprenticeship program being coordinated through the college, Hagle adds, “Students can secure a job with just a weatherization certificate. However, with each subsequent gain in educational certification (laddered certificates and/or degrees), the North Slope Borough offers tiered increases. Students with more education, such as an associate’s degree, are eligible for more upper-level positions, and are eligible for increased wages. Overall, if a student continues their educational journey, they are eligible for more advancement opportunities and movement within departments at the North Slope Borough and other local employers.”
Another benefit of the apprenticeship program is that it allows non-traditional students to earn college credits while working full time and supporting their families and communities. It will give these employees a path forward towards higher salaries and positions. It also offers employers another way to support and encourage employees to enhance their skills with an eye towards filling more advanced positions in the field, thus eliminating the need to bring in outside hires. This then opens up many new entry-level positions that can be filled locally, thus adding to the community’s employment base.
A major component of Ilisagvik College’s effort to create jobs for the region is creating flexible, modular credits that support students in their communities and uphold the subsistence way of life. Many students participate actively in seasonal traditional activities to provide food for their families and communities. Through the use of the National Center for Construction Education and Research curriculum, the college’s courses employ nationally recognized industry credentials in a standard modular format. Courses are now offered in one-week formats, allowing for flexibility for employer-driven scheduling and seasonal subsistence activities. When whaling season starts, everything else in the community becomes a secondary priority. In adhering to its cultural mission, the college has sought ways to support job creation, while still supporting the traditional subsistence way of life.
For many North Slope residents, leaving home for any level of post-secondary education can be problematic. Family commitments, subsistence, unfamiliarity, or being a first-generation college attendee can all weigh heavily on students. But at Ilisagvik College, most residents feel as though they are still within the embrace of a supportive community and family. This increases their chances at success in their chosen field. It is what Ilisagvik does best—more education, more opportunities, more out of life.
Arth Brown III is the dean of vocational education and workforce development at Ilisagvik College.
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Iḷisaġvik College President Dr. Pearl Brower is pleased and honored to announce that the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU) has reaffirmed Iḷisaġvik’s accreditation after the Fall 2017 Year Seven Evaluation. This reaffirmation confirms that Iḷisaġvik College is meeting its obligations to the educational goals of its stakeholders by maintaining regional accreditation.
In its notice to the College, the Commission highlighted the following areas by commending the college staff and faculty for their work:
- “The Commission commends President Brower and the Board of Trustees for their leadership, as demonstrated by their personal accountability to the institutional mission, service to the communities throughout the North Slope, and commitment to education and perpetuation of the culture of the Iñupiaq people.
- “The Commission commends Iļisaġvik College for its performance as public stewards. The College has consistently produced audit reports, with no findings, well within the Commission timelines, and has established a strong unrestricted reserve as a percentage of the operating budget.
- “The Commission commends the College for the effort and process utilized to develop the current phase of the Long Term Facilities Master Plan. This phase sets the stage for developing a defined plan that includes conceptual designs, time frame, costs, and a long term vision for a permanent home for Iļisaġvik College.
- “The Commission commends the College for creating workforce development and continuing education programs that effectively meet the workforce and economic development needs of the region and provide flexible pathways to employment for North Slope residents.
- “The Commission commends the College for its thoughtful use of limited resources, creative use of facilities, strategic alliances with community partners, and extraordinary service to students both locally and in remote villages.”
President Brower acknowledged the hard work and dedication of Iḷisaġvik’s Accreditation Committee, as well as all faculty, staff, board members and students, who have all contributed to this accomplishment. Brower added, “I know that when this college was first conceived, there were a lot of people who doubted that you could offer a quality education in such a remote area. We’ve proven that if your community wants education badly enough, it will give you the resources to do it no matter where you are located. I could not be more proud of all the people who have contributed to our success. Quyanaqpak!”
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