Download AudioStudents and mariners will soon be able to get formal marine transportation education without leaving the state. The University of Alaska Board of Regents last week approved a new marine transportation degree program at the University of Alaska Southeast.Dale Miller taught marine transportation courses at the University of Alaska Southeast Ketchikan campus. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)For decades, UAS has offered classes and training to ferry workers, the Coast Guard, shipyard workers, sea pilots, the tug and barge industry, fishing and charter boat captains and other maritime employees.These classes have never been part of a formal degree program.“In the 14 years I’ve been with the university, every year students come to us and ask us if we do have a degree program in marine transportation, so there is a demand from the students without us even advertising,” said Dale Miller, a recently retired marine transportation instructor.A formal degree program will allow more students, like military personnel and veterans, to access funding for course tuition.“In the early days, they could receive funding by taking our non-degree classes, but in the last several years, it’s changed a lot and they’re a lot more strict with the regulations. They’re being denied funding now because we do not have a degree program,” Miller said.The program approved by the regents is atwo-year associate of applied science degree. Miller said this can go far in helping someone transition to an on-shore career.“Hopefully when people go through that program, they’re halfway to a bachelor’s and they would think seriously about continuing their education. All the different fleet managers – the tourism, the tug boat, the Marine Highway System headquarters in Ketchikan – they all need managers and shore-side support people,” Miller said.The degree program will also keep students in the state, Miller said, instead of going elsewhere for a degree in marine transportation.“I think it’s a great opportunity for young people in Alaska to be able to get a degree at a lot less cost than leaving the state, paying for room and board and going to outside institutions, and coming back to the state to work,” Miller said.More than 430 students took marine transportation classes last year. That number is expected to increase with changing regulations requiring more mariners to take refresher and navigational courses.The associate degree program was originally proposed in 2006 and has been a priority for the Ketchikan campus ever since. The degree program starts this spring.