It’s one of the best community colleges in the United States, but you won’t find ivy-covered walls or elite clubs here.
Students are as likely to study conversational Iñupiaq as they are computer technology. And while their counterparts in sunnier climes may be accustomed to green campus lawns and urban attractions, these students are accustomed to seeing polar bears and snowy owls.
“I interned with the [North Slope Borough] wildlife department this summer and really liked it,” student Olive Kanayurak said on the I?isa?vik College website. She wants to ultimately earn an undergraduate degree and “come back and work for the wildlife department in Barrow.”
At I?isa?vik College, located in Barrow, Alaska on a point jutting out into the Beaufort Sea, Kanayurak has a better opportunity to fulfill her goals than at most other colleges. And an I?isa?vik degree will look good on her resume: I?isa?vik, an Alaska Native-controlled college, is rated No. 1 on SourceBest.org’s list of Best Community Colleges in Alaska, and No. 2 on WalletHub’s list—behind Helene Fuld College of Nursing (New York) and ahead of Pamlico Community College (North Carolina).
SourceBest.org is a site that rates colleges as well as careers, health care, travel, and technology. WalletHub.com is a personal finance website owned by Evolution Finance, Inc., and produces research reports and surveys on topics related in various degrees to personal finance.
I?isa?vik College was rated based on tuition and financial aid, student/faculty ratio, and education and career outcomes. It offers associate degrees, one-year certificates, endorsement programs and training courses. Fields of study include accounting, allied health, office administration, business management, computer technology, heavy truck operations, construction trades, industrial safety, and Iñupiat studies. The college offers studies at its campus and online.
The college’s motto is: “Honoring your past, preparing for your future.”
“Every program we offer at the college not only models our Iñupiat traditions, values, and culture, but also has substantial career and employment opportunities in the Arctic as well as elsewhere in Alaska,” the college website states.
The college’s appeal extends beyond Barrow, the northernmost community in the United States. In 2014, the college posted an interview with student Simon Aina, a native of San Diego, California. He served as residential adviser in the student dormitories, support worker in the Student Success Center, coordinated activities for students, and became the North Slope’s first-ever representative on the American Indian Higher Education Consortium Student Congress Northwest/Pacific.
Courtesy Ilisagvik College
Simon Aina performs at the 2013 “Barrow’s Got Talent” Show.
“I joined I?isa?vik College because I wanted to stop working dead-end jobs and make something of myself,” he told the college. “I know I had the potential to do something better than flipping tacos or selling memberships at some store, so I?isa?vik gave me the opportunity to show my potential.”
He earned an associate’s degree in allied health with an emphasis in human services, then went on to study toward an advanced degree and a career as a certified social worker.
“I?isa?vik College provides educational opportunities to all who wish to pursue their post-secondary education, with an emphasis on the needs of North Slope residents,” states the college website. “I?isa?vik believes that learning is a continuing, life-long process. The college has designed most of its courses and programs to allow each piece of knowledge to build upon the others.”
According to the college website, “I?isa?vik College offers its students an educational experience tailored to fit their needs and schedules. I?isa?vik reaches out to students and offers a way for them to get the education they need to provide for themselves and their families. Whether you are a full-time mom, looking to change careers, or looking to increase your skills in your chosen field, I?isa?vik has a program that can work around your schedule. We recognize each individual student for who they are and what their specific needs might be.”
Part of the college’s success lies in its focus on the educational needs of rural Alaska residents and the workforce needs of employers in the North Slope and other rural regions. An education at I?isa?vik prepares students for work close to their villages and families.
And, the college is accommodating in personal ways that colleges elsewhere are not or can’t be. The college sends someone to pick students up at the airport, helps find housing, and hosts Native food potlucks.
“We know that each student has their own unique needs and goals for their future,” the website states. “If your goal is to get a four-year diploma, I?isa?vik can offer you the first two years of that degree in a comfortable and familiar setting geared towards giving you a successful beginning to your college experience. Because I?isa?vik is fully accredited, your work here can transfer to your four-year degree elsewhere.”
Barrow/Utqia?vik at a Glance
The population of Barrow was 4,212 in the 2010 Census; 60.5 percent are Alaska Native/Native American.
In October, residents voted to rename the city “Utqia?vik," its original Iñupiat name. The name “Barrow” was bestowed in 1825 by British naval officer Frederick William Beechey (1796-1856), who named the point after Sir John Barrow (1864-1848), a British statesman and promoter of Arctic exploration.
July is the warmest month of the year, with an average high of 47 and an average low of 35. The sun remains above the horizon for 80 days between May and August.
Notable sites include Wiley Post-Will Rogers Memorial Airport, named for the famed aviator and the Cherokee humorist-philosopher who died in a plane crash here in 1935; the Iñupiat Heritage Center; and I?isa?vik College, established in 1996 at the former site of the Naval Arctic Research Lab.
The city also has a medical center, grocery stores, restaurants, and a hotel.