PUBLISHED: 4:07 PM on Wednesday, December 5, 2007
Alaska College Track 2 features stories of first generation students, families
360 North
Alaska College Track 2 will premiere on 360 North, a new public television service at 9 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 5. The documentary is immediately followed by an audience question and answer session about issues faced by students who are the first in their families to attend college with a panel including University of Alaska Southeast Chancellor John Pugh and Frank Coenraad of the Early Scholars program at Juneau Douglas Highschool.

The forum was taped at the UAS Egan Lecture Hall.

The documentary tells the stories of students making their way through the University of Alaska in Juneau, Anchorage and Fairbanks.

Amanda, Duain and Marita face remedial classes, financial hardship and personal tragedy. Amanda of Yakutat uses the heartbreaking loss of her brother to reassess her goals and get back on the college track.

Support systems and cultural identity help such students stay in college despite daunting challenges.

The documentary raises issues such as the High School Qualifying Exam, cultural differences, and the expectations gap between high schools and post-secondary educators.

The Alaska College Track series began in 2004 as a follow up to a national PBS series exploring America's commitment to equal access to higher education through the stories of students struggling to become the first in their families to attend college.

Producer Katie Bausler discovered rural Southeast Alaskans transitioning between high school and the rest of their lives. Alaska College Track featured young Alaska Natives with big plans for a college education.

Alaska College Track 2 catches up with these students at UAS, UAA and UAF in 2007.

"More Alaska Native and rural students might be graduating high school and going off to college than ever before. However, most of them are not necessarily on the college track," said UAS Director of Admissions Joe Nelson.

"Many are not prepared for college math and writing, so they spend at least their first semester taking developmental courses. In other words, they are paying for courses they should have mastered in high school."

But college success for such students takes more than academic preparation. "At the same time, they are attempting to make social adjustments above and beyond the average college freshman," said Nelson.

"In order to attend college, these students have separated, usually for the first time, from a large extended family. If they are to be successful in college, their first order of business should be to establish a support network in this foreign environment, i.e., a home away from home. If that home away from home feeling does not come in the first year, odds are they will not return for their second year."

The Alaska College Track series documents a strong cultural link to educational success for Alaska Natives. Students highly involved in their Alaska Native culture through dance, carving or language study seem more likely to seek and attain higher education.